Review: I Dream in Another Language – Sueño en otro idioma (2017)


I Dream in Another Language – Sueño en otro idioma (2017)

Directed by: Ernesto Contreras | 103 minutes | drama, romance | Actors: Fernando Álvarez Rebeil, José Manuel Poncelis, Eligio Meléndez, Fátima Molina, Juan Pablo de Santiago, Hoze Meléndez, Norma Angélica, Monica Miguel, Nicolasa Ortíz Monasterio, Héctor Jiménez, José Concepción Macías, Gabriela Cartol, Juan Antonio Llanoo

The language people speak largely determines the way they view the world, each other and themselves. That is the premise of the Mexican film ‘I Dream in Another Language’ (‘Sueño en otro idioma’). How reality is experienced; what the boundaries are between realism and surrealism: they are all shaped by language. So when a language threatens to die out, a specific world view also disappears. Great food for thought, presented by the Mexican brothers Ernesto (director) and Carlos (screenplay) Contreras.

In ‘I Dream in Another Language’, young and handsome linguist Martín travels to a small village in the jungles of the Mexican state of Veracruz (filmed in the lush Los Tuxtlas region), to meet the last two living speakers of the Looking for Zikril. These elderly men, the sweet-natured Isauro and the surly Evaristo, were once close friends but have been waging a cold war for fifty years because of a quarrel from the past. Initially unaware of this history, Martín becomes determined to reunite the two men. Initially mainly to make his own project – capturing Zikril – succeed, and gradually also to make the men come to terms with their past. Martín is helped in this by Lluvia, the beautiful granddaughter of Evaristo, whom he – unsurprisingly – has a crush on. Through Lluvia he also learns the true facts of the years of quarrel.

The beautiful but bored Lluvia teaches English to her fellow villagers on the local radio station and is determined to move to the United States. Nothing can stop her, she thinks to herself. The symbolism of this storyline – globalization, the dominance of the English language and the focus on the US, versus the nurturing of one’s own history, culture and language – is over the top but nevertheless highlights interesting things. Because in this globalizing world it is questionable what place there is for cultures with a non-dominant world view and human view.

Director Contreras was inspired for this story by reports of two elderly speakers of Ayapaneco – a dialect of the Mexican native Zoque – who lived in a village in the state of Tabasco 500 meters from each other without ever speaking to each other. Instead of (for example) using Ayapaneco in the film, thus highlighting a truly endangered language, Contreras had a completely new language designed for the film – a remarkable choice, in his own words, out of respect for the living speakers. of existing languages. But in doing so he misses an opportunity to tell something about a special community, language or culture, without ending up in generalities.

The broader questions that the film poses are more interesting than specific plot elements, such as the course of the – not very passionate – love affair between Martín and Evaristo’s granddaughter Lluvia or the ultimate knowledge that Martín will be able to record about Zikril. These broader questions are about what a language means for the emotional world of its speakers, what meanings language gives to daily life. How different is that when language allows its speakers to communicate with nature? (Why) should we continue to pay attention to dying languages? What is the loss of a disappearing language? And how do indigenous languages ​​compare to dominant Spanish and English? Mexico is still rich in 364 dialects from 68 indigenous languages, originating from 11 umbrella language families. Fortunately, there is increasing interest in the country in these languages ​​and the cultures they are associated with, so that the diversity they bring is not lost.

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