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La Llorona: The Guatemalan Film You Need To See

In the collective imagination of most every Central American or Mexican kid, lives the horrific folkloric tale likely told to them by their parents- La Llorona. Famous retellings of this story have taken shape in the form of the ranchera by the same name, sung by the likes of Chavela Vargas, Natalia LaFourcade and Eugenia León.

Each region in North and Central America has their own version of the story, the Panamanian version that I heard of growing up being La Tulivieja. My family story goes that my grandmother used to loom over my mother’s bed when she and her brothers refused to go to sleep, she would hide her hand from view, and knock on the nearest hard surface. She would announce in her scariest voice, ‘Ooooooooh Soy la Tulivieja! Busco a mis niños!’. They would immediately hide away in their beds, eyes closed tightly with their heads hidden underneath their pillows and begin praying ‘’Oh Jesus Sacramentado, Enemigos Veo Venir '' to ward her spirit away. Each regional retelling of the story brings about its own narratives and takeaways, but the general story usually is told like this.

A woman hailing from a remote village could not see herself marrying anybody in her area. So, when a foreigner came that she found fitting, she immediately decided to marry him. Their marriage was not a happy one, the man began chasing other women around, drinking and gambling all day. Then, when he would finally come home, he would never say hello to his wife and only play with their two young kids. This upset the wife so much that in a fit of rage she threw her two young children into the river near their house- sadly drowning them. Instantly filled with regret, she went out into the river, searching and wailing out for them in the water. After submerging herself in the water searching for her kids, she was swept away by the currents, and died as a result. It is said that the spirit of La Llorona, or the crying woman, can still be heard today near bodies of water- crying out for her children- or for more children to pull under the water depending on the version you heard.

Although there have been many retellings of this story throughout Latin America and they are all beautiful in their own way, the one that has had the largest social impact in terms of reaching modern audiences has been the suspenseful Guatemalan drama by the name of ‘La Llorona’ by Jayro Bustamante. Bustamante turns the traditional folk legend on its head by using it to highlight the genocide of the Maya-Ixchil people of the Guatemalan highlands during the Guatemalan civil war through the 1960s-1990s. This film is an excellent show of the rift between the socio-economic and racial classes of Guatemala, while centering Indigenous Maya experiences, suffering and expression throughout.

Maria Mercedes Coroy is a showstopping powerhouse in this film, with each of her expressions you can feel the story taking its shape. The story begins with a historic trial taking place to convict a General who was involved with the terrorization, brutalization, and murdering of many Maya-Ixil highlanders during the country's civil war. He is found guilty of gencocide, and the story begins to unfold when he and his family are locked away in his house for days on end while protestors chant for lost family members outside. The largely Indigenous house staff of the family quit their jobs because the general began to hear the wailing of La Llorona at night, and they knew that this meant she was coming. While we, the audience, hear the crowd chanting and mourning with vigils outside for the duration of the film, we can see how the family inside deals with the retribution brought forth by the spirit of La Llorona played by Maria Mercedes.

The movie is a masterful piece of storytelling and film, and I truly do recommend that anybody who would like to learn more about Central American storytelling, history, language, or culture- take the time to watch it.

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