Horacio Alcalá’s Finlandia is a sumptuous, multifaceted drama filled with life, love, and despair; a glorious explosion of creativity and cultural insight. It refuses to be limited in its scope, dealing with the lives of a group of muxes, gender nonconforming artisans recognized as a third gender by the Zapotec people in Oaxaca, Southern Mexico.
The film opens with two juxtaposed images: a child holds a shell to their ear to hear “the sea”, quickly followed by scenes of destruction, with the aftermath of an earthquake and the discovery of a body elaborately dressed under the rubble.
The sense of “the other” is everywhere in Finlandia, from the muxes building a place in their community; to Marta, a young Spanish fashion designer sent to Oaxaca to plagiarize the muxes designs for a fashion brand. Each character is searching for something outside of themselves. For Delirio (a heartbreaking performance from Noé Hernández) it is a lover in Finland who writes regularly but never commits to more. Marta (Andrea Guasch) comes alive in this new environment, despite her mission to take from their culture for corporate gain. Amaranta (Cuauhtli Jiménez) is stuck caring for a homophobic father and looking for love that seems unattainable.
In under 100 minutes, Alcalá manages to delve deeply into each of these lives, tackling issues of cultural appropriation, transphobia, aging, and corporate greed in a glorious mix. The screen is full of colour—often contrasted with the sterility of Europe—that Alcalá uses to bring people together or keep them apart. It’s a richness that deserves to be seen on as big a screen as possible.
Scattered through the story, Alcalá gives us small, carefully framed, tableaux of local life. A giant crucifix divides people like an overbearing act of cultural imperialism; two boys hand pumping an elaborate church organ; and the muxes in the desert, flourishing like flowers in the dust.
All the while, Mother Nature is there to nurture or destroy, while Alcalá explores the dualities of nature versus civilization, artisan design versus fast fashion, and masculine versus feminine; where only the muxes have learnt to live in a gender nonconforming way. In a world that refuses to understand them, they turn to nature for healing.
A line of dialogue from the film has stuck with me for days. After the young Mariano (Érick Israel Consuelo) has been beaten up at school for being queer he cries, “I just want to be me”. Held by the older, wiser, heartbroken Delirio he’s told a simple truth, “You already are.”
Finlandia is an intoxicating, mournful, elating piece of cinema.
By Chad Armstrong
Finlandia plays at QueerScreen’s Mardi Gras Film Festival 2022 in Sydney, Australia on February 24th. Click here for times and tickets.