Hot Docs

Mexican Dream Review: A Real Mexican Telenovela

Hot Docs 2024

5 mins read

Mexican Dream
(Mexico, UK, 90 min.)
Dir. Laura Plancarte
Programme: Persister (International premiere)


London-based visual artist and director Laura Plancarte’s Mexican Dream was originally started as conventional observational documentary about a Mexican woman on the cusp of middle-age, who works as a domestic and struggles to gain enough financial independence to reunite with three children after fleeing an abusive marriage. But as Plancarte has explained in interviews, she changed her concept of the film during the pandemic after she saw footage that the protagonist, Male (Maria Magdalena Reyes), had taken of herself. That led Plancarte to break with the conventional documentary barriers between filmmaker and subject by collaborating with Male and the other participants in a series of re-enactments, resulting in a kind of real-life telenovela about a working-class woman’s struggle against adversity.

Though the film has appeared at Hot Docs and other festivals as a documentary, viewers will sense the artificial compression of the dialogue and notice how many intimate moments take place in the camera’s presence. The opening scene, for example, takes place in a fertility clinic where Male lies on a stretcher as an obstetrician inserts an ultrasound probe into her vagina to gain images of her ovaries. In the subsequent consultation with the doctor, we learn that Male previously had tubal ligation after having three now teen-aged children. Now, at the bequest of her new boyfriend, Edgar, she is trying to get pregnant again. When the doctor tells her the cost of the procedure, she looks crestfallen.

At home, we see Male in the shower with her Edgar. He takes cares of his nephew, a kid about five, whose mother is in rehab, and is anxious to start a family of his own. To pay for the in vitro procedure, Male will have to take money from her house fund, and she starts to stall. Edgar, who is at first supportive, grows increasingly surly and controlling.

There aren’t many good men in this film, although Male’s old roué of a father has a generous side. In a scene when Male joins her family in a feast where they prepare and roast a pig, the old man talks about Mexico: “I’ve been a drunk and a gambler, but I stayed here.” He speaks of how two of his adult children are off, pursuing the “American Dream.” To help Male achieve her Mexican dream, he has given her some money and property to build a house, which she is constructing one cinder block at a time. After she finishes the ground floor, she decides to hold another party, one of several fiestas and bar scenes in the film, which distract Male from the ache in her life. At the party, she toasts to those who could not be there, meaning her children.

By day, she works as a maid for a wealthy divorcé, travelling back and forth to the suburbs in her employer’s chauffeur-driven car. There, she can see that money alone isn’t happiness: As she serves drinks to her employer and her friends, the rich housewives of Mexico City also complain about their lives and the fickleness of men.  Later the chauffeur wryly observes: “Mexicans are never satisfied. The haves complain and the have-nots, too.”

When not working or building her home, confiding in friends, or dealing with the increasingly threatening Edgar, Male stalks her estranged children, who ignore her on the street, block her on Facebook and, in the case of her adolescent daughter, harshly reject her. The pain in Male’s eyes is believable though the viewer never doubts that she will endure and likely prevail.  Plancarte’s hybrid film may be experimental and unorthodox but the pay-off is a crowd-pleasing melodramatic work of inspiration and happy tears.

Mexican Dream screened at Hot Docs 2024.

Liam Lacey is a freelance writer for and POV, Canada’s premiere magazine about documentaries and independent films.

Previously, he was a film critic for The Globe and Mail newspaper from 1995 to 2015. He has also contributed to such publications as Variety, Cinema Scope, Screen, and Entertainment Weekly, as well as broadcast outlets CBC and National Public Radio.

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