Friday, August 23, 2019

Tigers Are Not Afraid: The Lost Boys & Girls of Mexico

By José Alberto Hermosillo
Tigers Are Not Afraid, poster. ©2019 Shudder

“Tigers Are Not Afraid/Vuelven” literally crosses the border between fiction and reality - timely, remarkable, and provocative! 

A decade of the ongoing “War on Drugs” has left thousands of deaths and missing people in Mexico. The acclaimed writer/director Issa López tackles bravely the growing problem of the forgotten children of war. In her new genre film - street children bargain with drug dealers, crooked politicians, and living death.

 Issa López Photo: José Alberto Hermosillo ©2019 Festival in LA.
In the magical-realism universe of Issa López, fantasy confronts the horrors of reality. She vividly reenacts school shootings, kidnappings, torture, murder, and mass graves - to soften it with dragons, fairies, and mythology. The tale of “The Prince and the Tiger” works perfectly as the thread of the film, symbolically speaking.
Tigers Are Not Afraid ©2019 Shudder
López started her career writing successful comedies such as “Casi Divas/Road to Fame” but always wanted to work in drama. She declares herself a big fan of genre movies. For this project, and as a disciplined writer, López woke up an hour early to write one scene a day. For her, placing the elements of a fairy tale with the character archetype was very satisfactory.

The idea to make this “Tiger” movie came out of a conversation López had with a journalist. They wondered what was happening with the child victims of the War on Drugs. These children live by themselves in ghost towns. López cleverly considers her film a reflection of the Mexican reality.
Tigers Are Not Afraid ©2019 Shudder
The director states that her biggest challenge was to find children who can make an honest performance in front of the camera. The production auditioned 600 youngsters, then they went down to 200, to finally choose five. All of the children were first-time actors who did an exceptional job.

It is tough to handle children’s exposure to violence. For that reason, Issa López worked with the Brazilian casting director of the realistic movie “City of God.” She told her: “You need to work with the emotions of those children.” López used some techniques to grab and release the children’s reactions and get their best performances. 

López says, “In a movie, fear is the hardest emotion to play.”  Before shooting, she talked to the children about fantasies, misbelieve, and other realities. “It was easy for them to feel empathy for the other children with no parents,” she settles.

The story starts with the poetic narration of the fairy tale of “The Prince and the Tiger.” Estrella (Paola Lara), a ten-year-old girl, subconsciously enters into that fantasy that blends with her reality when bullets fly over her head. The school teacher grants her three wishes to ease the tension. From then on, a magical tickle of blood follows the little girl.

A few days pass by, Estrella realizes that her mom is not coming back to feed her and hug her. When she wishes for her mom’s return, whispers in her ear will string along. Feeling hungry, she has no other option but to join the street children for survival.
Tigers Are Not Afraid ©2019 Shudder
El Shine (Juan Ramón López) is the leader of the clan. He doesn’t accept a girl as a new member, but Estrella has what it takes to challenge them. El Shine has in his possession a cellphone with an incriminating video of one of the Narcos torturing Estrella’s mother and other women.

Technically, the script is detail-oriented, the short dialogs are unique and relevant for every single character, making the narrative flow consistently.

Issa López style matches the work of other great directors, such as Alejandro Amenábar’s “The Others,” “The Orphanage” by J.A. Bayona, “The Devil's Backbone” by Guillermo del Toro, “Midnight Special” by Jeff Nichols, and more recently “Brightburn” by David Yarovesky.

The timing of this film couldn't be any better for what children are living these days everywhere. The director compares the children left on their own in Mexico with those from Central America who escape the violence of their countries, cross the US border to get separated from their families, and hauled in containers. 

American children can't escape the disturbance of mass school shootings. Child soldiers in the African nations, or the sicario kids in South America, many children in the world have terrifying times as well.

In Issa López world, to confront these challenges is necessary to believe in fairy tales. Remember, you only have three wishes to fulfill your destiny.
José Alberto Hermosillo, Issa López. Photo: ©2019 Festival in LA.
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