Myths and folklore were in abundance at the 2020 Filmfest Hamburg. Some were based in Greek antiquity (ORPHEA, ANTIGONE), while others were from a bit further afield such as Mayan (TRAGIC JUNGLE) and Philippine (ASWANG) folklore. All utilized these ancient stories and creatures to shed light on modern injustices demonstrating how mythology has always been a powerful allegorical tool for making sense of difficult subjects.
TRAGIC JUNGLE, 2020:
Two young women escape into the jungle on the border between Mexico and Belize, running away from a rich, white man who is hunting one of them down. Agnes is full of life and does not wish to die a virgin who has not experienced life and speaks this thought aloud to the forest. She is found by a group of Mexican gum workers who struggle to contain themselves around her. Tensions rise, fantasies run rampant, and soon men are dropping like flies… usually after spending some impassioned time with Agnes. They have come across the Xtabay, a Yucatan Mayan demon who lures men to their deaths with her immeasurable beauty. Gender power dynamics are examined through the lens of desire and violence. When men act with lust and violent behavior, they are only human, but when Agnes does so, she is transformed into a creature of lore; beware a powerful, sexual woman; they might just kill you.
The ancient tragedy of the Hipponomes family is brought into contemporaneous context when the tale is transposed to the story of family in asylum in Quebec. When one brother is murdered by the police and her other brother is arrested for gang crimes, Antigone takes it upon herself to save the family she has left by any means necessary. Questions the Ancient Greek’s struggled with are still posed, when does a person have a right to take the law into her own hands? When do natural rights supersede the laws of the land? The Greek Gods have been removed in this modern context, but much of the philosophy remains, even if it is a bit heavy handed in the execution.
In Filipino folklore, the Aswang is a shape-shifting evil spirt with no motivation other than to hurt others. In the film, this creature is used to parallel the cruel and inhumane policies of President Duterte’s death squads against drug users. Like the mysterious actions of the Aswang, the murderers are never present in the film, only bodies are left behind. The Aswang of myth are an inversion of the traditional Filipino values of family connectedness, honor, and morality, instead they are lewd, unclean, and targeting their own kin without impunity. Meanwhile the police in the Philippines leave corpses strewn on street corners; the people turn a blind eye from injustice even voting for politicians whose policies directly killed their siblings and friends. The Aswang is the secret devil living openly in society. The Aswang are the police and the government, but they are also the citizens who continue to accept and vote for such policies.
What if the story of Orpheus and Eurydice was reversed? Would Eurydice have fared better than her beau? Would she have maybe had greater ambitions than merely saving her love? Orpheus is transformed into the singing Orphea in this take on the ancient myth, traveling to the underworld (embodied by the dangerous modern-day Manila in the Philippines) to save her love, and maybe save humanity. A chaotic mix of rock-opera, satire, and incomprehensible nonsense, ORPHEA attempts to utilize Ancient Greek mythology to illuminate European xenophobia, consumerism, and probably some other super deep avant-garde cultural criticism. Whereas myths help break down complex issues, ORPHEA revels in utilizing to make everything more difficult to understand than it needs to be.