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First Look Review - OUR MOTHERS

our mothers review
A young man searches for his father, who went missing during Guatemala's civil war.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: César Díaz

Starring: Armando Espitia, Emma Dib, Aurelia Caal, Julio Serrano Echeverría, Victor Moreira

our mothers poster

Somewhere in a darkened, timber hued lab, anonymous hands meticulously re-arrange archaic soil-stained bones upon a flat black surface. The skeleton comes together in a judicious compromise of ribs, phalanges and vertebrae, eventually crowned by the yawning horror of the skull. This is Guatemala, 2018. The country is immersed in the legal fallout of the three decade long civil war which ended in 1996, fought between the government of Guatemala and various leftist rebel groups: ie, another huge fucking mess of a skirmish, which went on to involve Israel, the U.S., Argentina and South Africa, et all. However, as this delicate opening serves to imply, writer/director César Díaz’s Our Mothers is not engaged with the whys and wherefores of the conflict (indeed, throughout the film the word ‘soldier’ is synonymous with a type of banal, human evil which characterises secessional discord) but the seemingly infinite fallout of war and the poignant attempts to put things back together following it.


our mothers review

Following its inclusive title, Our Mothers saves its focus for the survivors of the war, the women who endured the conflict, who suffered the extraneous violence of occupation, and lost husbands, fathers and sons to the carnage. The tapered fingers of Our Mother’s opening belong to Ernesto (Armando Espitia), a young anthropologist working for the Forensic Foundation, an institution dedicated to locating and identifying the missing thousands of the war. This procedure not only affords some semblance of comfort for the bereaved, but also provides evidence for the ongoing trials of war criminals.

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Furthermore, it turns out that Ernesto has a personal investment in his occupation. His own father, a guerrillero, went missing during the war. Ernesto discovers a lead, and, despite protestations from his own mother, sets about pursuing it.


our mothers review


The representation of events is acute in Our Mothers: Ernesto is a fictional character, but the situation is pertinent. The bones that he arranges within the film’s opening are real, as is the occasionally war blighted milieus which the film utilises. Big empty blocks of utilitarian apartment buildings decay like massive gravestones, pock marked with graffiti and overrun with weeds, overshadowing an excavation site. There is no getting around it, people used to live in these buildings: they had lives, and hopes and fears, and now they do not. An incontestable horology that emotionally powers this quiet and noble film.

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It becomes clear where Our Mothers' sympathies and purpose exists when, at the film’s midpoint, Diaz gives over significant running time to plaintive, static mid shots of various women from the area. We are positioned to assume that they are authentic victims of the war, the women who are left behind with no answers or justice. Our Mothers protests due process for these women, in a manner that is both dignified and sincere. Ernesto himself is an intriguing figure. With his soft, feminine good looks he provides a severe contrast to the worn skin of various male militia. He is reluctant to share a smoke with an older woman - as if a cheeky toke will subtract from the energy of his mission - yet submits to erotic dreams as he sleeps in his car (concerning the barmaid at the dive bar where he drinks to forget). He is entirely reliant upon the women around him, a one-man metaphor for the cowed patriarchy of Guatemala.


our mothers review

By necessity, Our Mothers is slender in content and ideology: it has a story to tell and a point to make which are both straightforward, and which are duly recounted here with candour and decorum. Anything more or less would be a disservice to the actuality of the subject matter. We are left with a sobering reality; while conventional structures of cinema entail a narrative closure, this is an artificially generated resolution which is entirely disingenuous to the uncertainties and cruelty of real life.

Our Mothers will be made available on VOD nationally in the US via local art house cinemas beginning May 1st, with a ticket price of $12, split equally with the local cinema to help support them during the pandemic. ROW8, the digital provider to Outsider Pictures, also offers a zip code, geo-targeted solution, which will allow theatres to use the system on an ongoing basis allowing its more vulnerable audiences to keep viewing new films from home while necessary.

A UK/ROI release has yet to be announced.




2020 film reviews