Three generations of gender-variant people known as muxes take pride of place in Horacio Alcalá’s multifaceted narrative feature Finlandia (★★★★☆), primarily set in a small town in Oaxaca, Mexico.
In Zapotec culture, muxes are a tight-knit group, most of them assigned male at birth and raised as boys, although starting around the age of puberty they often begin to dress and act in more feminine ways.
Finlandia stars Noé Hernández as the elder muxe Delirio in this village, and she’s happy to shed light and impart wisdom about her culture and experiences, something we see her do chiefly through interactions with the near-puberty Mariano (Érick Israel Consuelo) and also with Marta (Andrea Guasch), a young fashion designer from Spain.
We first meet Marta at her workplace in her native Madrid. Her boss (Raquel Menor Rodriguez) sends her to Mexico to learn about Oaxacan design so she can then turn around and create designs that copy the styles, only make them “more European.”
Shortly after she arrives in town, Marta meets Amaranta (Cuauhtli Jiménez), a muxe who takes a shine to the woman he calls “Blondie.”
Soon enough, the two become inseparable, to the surprise of many, especially the men for whom Amaranta is often the other woman, as it were. From what we see on film, Marta and Amaranta’s is a tender and sensual kind of love, and their chemistry is sweet and sisterly — extra special.
Because of the fashion tie-in, the camera regularly lingers over and zooms in close on the rich fabrics, exquisite patterns, and vibrant colors of the clothes that the muxes design and wear for themselves. All in all, Finlandia is a sumptuous visual feast, enhanced by Alcalá’s background working for Cirque du Soleil.
It weaves together its multiple strands of plot as it goes along, while leaving some loose narrative ends in a way that makes it feel a bit unfinished.
For example, a major earthquake rocks the town, the aftermath we see at the outset, before we even meet the muxes. That natural disaster is used to frame the drama, which ends by offering a bit more insight into who and what is lost in the rubble, and who is given a second chance at life.
Otherwise, though, the earthquake seems disconnected to the overall story, as if added on at the last minute to add dramatic tension, but too late to contextualize it further.
Even more problematic is the connection, or lack thereof, to the country that gives the drama its title. As far as we know, not a single person in Finlandia has ever been to that far-away Nordic country, and the only direct connection to it is the mysterious letters that Delirio receives in the mail allegedly written by an old flame who lives there.
But no old flame can hold a candle to all the exotic intrigue and mystery that seems to abound in Oaxaca. You just can’t beat this heat.
Finlandia plays exclusively in the Virtual Festival through Oct. 29.
Reel Affirmations 2023 includes the Virtual Film Festival, providing online access to 43 films for those film lovers who cannot attend the festival in person, with a viewing window from Oct. 23 to 29.
Browse the full Virtual Festival catalog here.
Buy Virtual Festival passes here.
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