Tigers Are Not Afraid

Written & Directed by Issa López

Since the involvement of the Mexican government in 2006, the war on Drug cartels and trafficking have torn apart the cultural landscape of South America, surprisingly without much focus from many Western nations. With upwards of 160,000 recorded deaths, with many children being hidden on the fatality list, ‘Tigers Are Not Afraid’ (2017) blends together a mixture of spiritual folklore, horror and dramatic filmmaking to highlight the atrocity of reality, and how this Halloween ghosts and spectres are far tamer than the genuine monsters this world faces.

Flirting with the fantastical, writer and director Issa López has gone on to receive tremendous respect for her piece. A story of Estrella’s (Paola Lara) quest to find her mother, who has been snatched by drug-traffickers, leads to an encounter with a group of lost boys. Here, they steal, laugh and survive in a harsh city district, hiding from the Huascas, a drug cartel, after the boy’s leader Shine (Juan Ramón López) steals a cartel’s phone containing contacts, evidence and a few photos of the both Shine and Estrella’s mothers.

hero_tigers-are-not-afraid-movie-review-2019.jpg

Thankfully, López has the backbone to treat this horror with the required nerve, refusing to hide behind off-screen deaths. Anyone is fair game, a testament to the callousness of Mexico’s drug-feuds. Of course, though, the one person they would never suspect to hold the key, or rather the chalk, to foiling their plans, would be a woman, or better still, a young girl. Estrella receives three ‘wishes’ by her teacher, in a tear-inducing symbolic gesture of the weapon against the drug trade, and patriarchal fear – education.

“López has the backbone to treat this horror with the required nerve, refusing to hide behind off-screen deaths. Anyone is fair game, a testament to the callousness of Mexico’s drug-feuds.”

Arming herself with these wishes, Estrella’s performance from Paolo Lara is a part of the film’s success, with others being López’s concept and the character of Shine. A generic narrative of ‘careful what you wish for’ is in lew put the background, integral but not the focal point. Lara’s wishes result in fear-inducing events; the first, to have her mother return, brings the measure of horror forward. Lara is a natural, naïve but sturdy enough to stand against the boys, becoming a mother figure, in what is a thinly veiled reference of Peter Pan. Her back and forth with Shine, who so desperately wants to be the tiger he dresses is a relationship at the core of the film.

tigersnotafraid960.jpg

Symbolically, these tigers, these people who desire to move from their storybook princes into stealthy, majestic creatures are far from the animals they idolise. Splattering the streets of Mexico with graffiti, the Huascas are illustrated with claws, teeth and the slit eyes – when in reality, they are anything but. Shine’s ‘cowardice’ keeps him from earing these stripes. Shine himself, noting that as a ‘king of a fucked-up kingdom’ he cannot kill the man who stole his mother. This lack of assertive cruelty somehow equates to masculinity, communicating volumes to the film’s intention.

“Lara is a natural, naïve but sturdy enough to stand against the boys, becoming a mother figure, in what is a thinly veiled reference of Peter Pan.”

Mexico has a diverse, intense relationship with death, horror and the spiritual. Currently undergoing a renaissance of Horror movies, these films created by Latin filmmakers like López or producer Marco Polo Constandse have no fear of the genre like their American counterparts. It’s Spanish title, ‘Vuelven’ translates to ‘Return’, a rather literal, though relating title. As such, spirits exist in the between, making for superbly tense shots from Juan Jose Saravia’s cinematography. Lingering, those who have suffered the Hollywood fake-out or jump scare will be unnerved by how silent this film can be, allowing an uncomfortable unease to do the work. As we close-in on shots, empty and grim, a small movement, or perhaps the sound effect is enough to push your eyes away.

film_tigers_are_not_afraid_2

Just as methodically unpleasant, Vicent Pope’s score is uncomfortable, but in that rare manner, only Horror can achieve. It works, you’re not put off by the design of the score, but there’s something which hazes your senses. Together, Pope and López capture the fear these children experience, just how open and vulnerable they are. Bleeding through our reality, folklore weaves around the film, keeping itself to the realm of shadowy imagination. It’s in effect how the blending of genres should work, neither takes a principle role, complimenting one another.

The fairy-tale gruesomeness never diminishes the realism, and the gritty drug-focused horror never detracts from the myth. Treating aspects of legend in reverence, similar to master of the craft Guillermo Del Torro, López’s sense of mystic is two-fold, an escape from the harsh monstrosities of reality and punishment for our antagonist. For the most part, the blending is sublime, a metaphorical sense of horror than a cheap sense of fright, but sadly one or two jump scares, and a peculiar revival of a stuffed animal draws us straight out of the immersion.

tigers.jpg

“Bleeding through our reality, folklore weaves around the film, keeping itself to the realm of shadowy imagination. It’s in effect how the blending of genres should work, neither takes a principle role, complimenting one another.”

Generalizing a complex social-political issue, López seems unsure of where to draw her focus. Aware to place the children at the heart of the narrative, with the supernatural enveloping the surrounding darknesses, it leaves little room for physical antagonists in the form of The Huascas or Chino, though Ianis Guerrero provides a marvellous climax alongside Lara and Ramon López as the spiritual horror kicks in a gear or two, with a repulsive, somehow sickeningly satisfying punishment for the human-trafficker. ‘Tigers Are Not Afraid’ continues Mexico’s history of tremendous pieces of horror, an example of Hispanic – Latina cinema’s continuing trend to take the chances Hollywood fears to gamble on.

Review originally published for In Their Own League

Acosta Danza Evolution ft. Carlos Acosta – Festival Theatre

Principle Artistic Direction by Carlos Acosta

Dance doesn’t solely comprise movement, while the central aspect in a medium without voice, the ability to communicate with an audience through rhythm, music, construct and the beauty of abstract storytelling is paramount. Acosta Danza Evolution is the future of the industry, illustrating their imaginative capabilities with four pieces which, while sharing mirthful talent and passion, couldn’t be more different from one another.

Playing to their narrative strengths, Acosta retells less-recognisable stories. With the playwrighting and choreography of Adrian Silver, Sidi Larbi Cheraoui or Steven Brett, it places audiences on an even keel. Those familiar with dance may have advantages understanding technique, but there is such fresh material from the company that a sense of wonder pervades over veterans just as much as those new to the art form. Dance companies take chances to survive, or risk fading into pleasant, though archaic formats. Acosta Danza Evolution takes conceptual versatility and launches it into the air – rarely, has such amalgam of unique concepts found themselves on the same stage. From the magenta ribbons of zen-like trances, into deep haunting woodlands’ interpretations, and then to the tie-baring rockers of the Rolling Stones’ Lady Jane or Sympathy for the Devil.

Light and shade are mere toys for the artistry on show, bending the resolute which defy traditional movement, particularly for this evening’s triumphs – Satori and Faun. Never has human touch felt so valuable, given a place at the peak of the sensory exhibition as performers meld into one another’s rhythm. Two dancers, one flow, it’s staggering the synchronicity they accomplish – not only with each other but with the score. A composition which echoes the backdrop for Faun, an uncomfortable mixture of unease, yet natural wonder. A woodland setting, with a blanketing fog concealing something hidden in the distance.

Concise in colour, hypnotic in construct, designers Angelo Alberto, Karen Young, Hussein Chalayan and Marian Bruce highlight dancers with precision, straying from flash or morbid displays of tactless shades. Where utilising colour, such as the crimson trim of a dress, an injection of flavour, it’s acutely painful to consider how much thought is in the ideas process of design choices, which work subtle splendours and draw attention. Nowhere is this clearer than a simple magenta skirt, which echoes the Cuban tones of a Zapateo or Salsa. It is in the same performance, where Zeleydi Crespo’s attitude, form and costume conjures an early-Grace Jones stance of female authority. Her movements proud, strong with a paradoxical delicacy in footing.

Fiercely proud, Acosta Danza fuses their Cuban steps with pigeon-foots of Swedish, Eastern Germany, Russia and predominately European dance movement, with an obvious dash of ballet for good measure. With roots in African and Cuban dance, there’s an intensity to all four of these evenings performances, but they couldn’t be further apart in emotional context or choreography. The gravity-Morpheuslike defiance of Satori is in polar opposition to the grounded, rocker ballad battle of the sexes that is the celebration of modern music RoosterSatori’s study of stagnation, momentum through choreography are only complimented with the original score from Pepe Gavilondo’s combination of mesmerising folk, strikes against the electronic acoustics.

In 2020, Carlos Acosta will succeed David Bintley as artistic director of the Birmingham Royal ballet, gracing this evenings production with a performance. Acosta and fellow dancers stitch a needle-like precision of ballet steps, tempering them with club movements, balancing a comedic narrative throughout Rooster, demonstrating how lucky the company will be in the coming years.

Acosta Danza Evolution showcases its namesake profoundly: evolution. Paying tribute to the origins of movement, the bedrock of and African and European dance, unearthing them, throwing them to the winds to watch which will flutter into renewed life. If you have had the pleasure of seeing dance in a form such as this, it is enviable – for Acosta Danza stand apart from various troupes as innovative, bold, and yet offer a profoundly humorous approach to the art which feels akin to family. It may seek to convey mysticism, zen and even abject fear, but couldn’t be further from a welcoming atmosphere. It cannot be stated enough; whether a veteran twinkle-toes or cursed with two left feet, Evolution will enthral you.

Acosta Danza Evolution runs until November 2nd at Festival Theatre Edinburgh, and then continues on tour: http://www.acostadanza.com/en/

Photo Credit – Enrique Smith Soto, Yuris Norido and Panchito Gonzles

549: Scots of the Spanish Civil War

Writers: Jack Nurse and Robbie Gordon

Director: Jack Nurse

We’ve all been down the pub with this motley crew; ‘the weeman’, ‘the radge’, a ‘non-voter’ and of course, ‘the Tory’. For these pals, this is a usual evening in the seaside town of Prestonpans. They do what all friends do; drink, banter, swear and snipe at one another. They complain about the state of the country, blaming one another’s political alliances or lack thereof. A hallowed reminder of the past, an all too forgotten war, draws them to hear of a mighty similar group of men from their companion Ellen.

In 1936, across Scotland, a collection of 549 men, some entirely different in their religion, class, ideology, found one common purpose: Equality and Freedom, no matter the nation. They would make for Spain and form the Scottish regiment of the International Brigade during the Spanish Civil War.

Wholly intimate, the production thrives on a smaller stage. The aggressive fire in the boys’ eyes has to be seen up close, any further and we would lose the quivers of fear in these young men. Jack Nurse’s direction puts the action as close to the audience as possible. Tables, chairs and crates which have previously made up the bar become barricades. Coasters are passports, and the lads take up arms with pool cues to make for inventive prop usage.

549: Scots of the Spanish Civil War is a production reliant on solid performers. It requires a connection, which Wonder Fools easily achieve. All of our performers portray two characters, their modern selves and a past counterpart. Such as Josh Whitelaw’s Jock, his modern self an irritated young man who cares for his mother. His past reflection, a man who strives for fresh air but has explosive bursts of repressed rage. Whitelaw gives a gut-wrenching performance, as do Robbie Gordon and Rebekah Lumsden.

As Ellen, barkeep and partial narrator, Lumsden has the task of setting our story in motion. Establishing the narrative well, her manner of delivery is humorous and earthy. She plays off the lads incredibly, going between friend, mother-figure and source of blunt honesty. Being at her wits end with Jimmy (Nicholas Ralph), she bridges the gaps in character development, so it doesn’t feel forced.

Lyrics and storytelling chain this production to memories, keeping it from being a ghost story. The song components offer a feeling of camaraderie. The rendition of a miners tune, sung in the round is breath-taking, but all the more haunting as we know learn fates.

While the majority of the scripting feels natural, there are a few situations in which they exaggerate for comedic effect. They stray just a tad too far from believable to dramatic. The only other hitch is one of pacing, Nurse and Robbie Gordon’s script could have been ten minutes shorter or extended into a Two Act production. There’s a split – for the history buffs, there’s a glossing over of the complexities of Spain’s Republic, for a general theatre-going audience what politics we cover is slows momentum.

549: Scots of The Spanish Civil War is not only a reminder of the past, but it’s also a staunch punch to the gut that the issues we suffer today are not dissimilar to previous generations. That despite differences from vocal minorities, now more than ever, the bad blood between young and old shouldn’t sour. That quite often we work for the same goals, especially in the fight of freedom, equality and our European neighbours.

Review originally published for Reviews Hub: https://www.thereviewshub.com/549-scots-of-the-spanish-civil-war-traverse-theatre-edinburgh/

Production touring: http://www.wonderfools.org/549

Image contribution: Mihaela Bodlovic