They were spryer, but the 100,000 man-strong volunteer
defense force of traditional Mexican charro rodeo riders were about as unlikely
a fighting force as Dad’s Army. Of course, it was all for show. Oaxaca Congressman
and National Charro Association president Antolin Jimenez was the showman
behind it. He was also filmmaker Fernando Llanos’s grandfather. Despite his
prominence, Llanos’s family never really talked about the old man, so he conducts
a personal investigation into his family history in Matria (trailer here),
which screens during the 2015 Margaret Mead Film Festival at the American
Museum of Natural History.
Jimenez was about as colorful as you can get.
As a young man, he quickly rose to become one of Pancho Villa’s most trusted
lieutenants. However, he could see the writing on the wall and therefore
proactively planned his exit strategy. Basically, he sold out for a government position
and gold. He did well for himself, eventually representing Oaxaca in congress
on three separate occasions. He also became the leader of the charros, even
though he was personally all hat and no cattle. However, he was a cold, distant
person, so many in his family still have trouble dealing with his legacy. In
fact, that is true of both his families.
Regardless of Llanos’s personal issues (Jimenez
died soon after his birth), it is impossible to get bored with his grandfather’s
roguishly eventful life. Considering the film really started as his journey of
discovery, Llanos mostly takes himself out of the picture, rather conscientiously.
Viewers certainly get a sense of what opportunities were available for an
ethically flexible adventurer in early Twentieth Century Mexico. Llanos even
finds a way to shoehorn in a performance from Lila Downs (a veteran of the
Oaxaca music scene), who sounds lovely as ever.
Llanos balances the tension between the angst
of his family drama and the Flashman-like appeal of Jimenez’s exploits
relatively well. In the process, he gives us a perspective on bourgeoisie Mexico
that we rarely get to see. Along with Llanos, we do come to appreciate Jimenez
for all his flaws. In fact, it is easy to believe things would be better if he
were still representing Oaxaca and cutting political deals. Even though it is
just over an hour in length, the pacing is a tad inconsistent (and Llanos is
bizarrely preoccupied with Jimenez’s Masonic membership), but the charro leader’s
story is still intriguing enough to pull viewers through. Recommended for those
fascinated by strange but true history, Matria
screens this Sunday (10/25), as part of the AMNH’s Margaret Mead Film
Labels: Documentary, Margaret Mead '15, Mexican Cinema