Lila Avilés, Mexico, Denmark, France, 2023
TÓTEM, Lila Avilés new film, begins as the 7-year-old Sol (Naíma Sentíes) arrives at her grandfather’s house to celebrate her father’s birthday. Unfortunately, this is also a farewell party. Sol’s father, Tona (Mateo García Elizondo), who is an artist, has cancer and not long to live. Nuri (Montserrat Maranon) and Alejandra (Marisol Gasé), Tona’s sisters, are preparing a big surprise party for their brother and the old, somewhat rundown house is full of quests. Sol roams around the house talking to and observing various people and by way of Sol’s reflections and conversation between the quests we are able to get a family portrait. Finally, Sol’s mother, Lucía (Iazua Larios) arrives and both mother and daughter are allowed to go into Tona’s room. This is truly a beautiful scene of love and caring for one another.
Although the story is told primarily from the perspective of Sol (how she feels, reflects, and deals with the death of her father), we receive glimpses of other members of the family’s relation to Tona. Even the house, itself, is almost a character that can tell many stories about this family. Except for the arrival of Sol in the beginning, the action all takes place in this timeworn, but loveable house.
The camera work is very effective. Especially when the 4:3 aspect ratio is used such as in the closeup filming of the house—the insects crawling up the pictures on the wall or the leaves of the many plants in the house. Very moving and effective was also the filming of Sol’s face with the 4:3 aspect ratio at the beginning and end of the film. It conveys better than words the pain and struggle Sol must go through in order to deal with her father’s death.
In spite of the sorrowful main theme, the death of Sol’s father, the film maintains a spirit of warmth and lightheartedness throughout while offering vivid character studies.