Tuesday, February 24, 2009

In Review: Los Herederos (2008)

Mexico has been on my wish list of go to places for some time, especially since I keep hearing so many good things about that country: its history and culture; its art, music and dance; and the remnants of ancient civilisations. On my next visit to North America I plan to travel through the southern states of the US, and since I will be in the area, I hope to include Mexico on my itinerary.

It’s safe to say, the Mexico most tourists and visitors experience is not the one depicted in Los Herederos (The Inheritors), a new documentary by Eugenio Polgovsky which screened yesterday as part of the 2009 BigPond Adelaide Film Festival. Ten years in the planning, Los Herederos follows children as they work alongside their parents and other adults in tasks as diverse as farming, brick making, weaving, the harvest of tomatoes, chili and maize, and numerous other labour intensive activities.

You will see no sun drenched beaches here; no Mariachi bands, and no luxurious hotels. Just everyday depictions of the hard daily grind of rural Mexican life.

Where the smiles are few and far between; where farming is often still done the old way – behind a wooden plough pulled behind a couple of oxen; where if you don’t work you don’t eat, and if you don’t eat you die; where this simple imperative forces even the most elderly and infirm to contribute something, no matter how little; where if you are ‘lucky’, you get to spend the day tending goats, instead of planting corn; where the ‘lucky’ girls get to spend their days weaving at the loom, instead of picking tomatoes or beans all day in open fields; where labour is always hard, back breaking and by hand; where any education or schooling is of the ‘hard knocks’ variety; and where finally, the concept of ‘doing your chores’ is meaningless, because in this world, you are born to work and contribute to the family table whether you want to or not.

How apt then, that in one scene we see a damaged alarm clock on which the thin hand ticking away the seconds is actually turning backwards!

“Rage and awe fuel my desire to pay homage to their abilities and their courage,” says writer, director, and producer, Eugenio Polgovsky.

There are few scenes of fun or rest and relaxation in this powerful documentary. Indeed, it was only the young boys herding goats who found the time to pause and look at a rainbows, or play by rolling down hills. Neither does the film show any sign of a formal education being directed towards the children in these communities.

There is very little dialogue in this film. It seemed to me that everyone was working so hard at their various tasks, they didn’t have the energy to waste on idle conversation. Neither is there any explanation in the form of a voice over or on screen text, to try and place the images we are viewing in some type of context. Polgovsky is content to let the images speak for themselves, and quite rightly so.

The scenes of children, some as young as five or six toiling for hours alongside their parents, picking beans, tomatoes and chillies, says more than mere words can ever hope to convey.

This is an eloquent portrait of the lives and daily struggle for survival of rural communities in today's Mexico. While the children may have inherited tools and techniques from their ancestors, they have also inherited their day to day hardship. Generations pass, but child workers remain captive in a seemingly endless cycle of inherited poverty.

Four stars
Image courtesy of
BigPond Adelaide Film Festival

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Blogger EOlivas said...

I saw the documentary yesterday. I was born in Mexico and while my childhood was not the one depicted here, It was still a hard one. Seeing the documentary made me feel a mixture of guilt and understanding. If they don't work they don't eat yet it breaks my heart to see the little ones working. I agree with your review completely. Mind if I pass it along?
P.S. I was in Adelaide on 2004 for school internship at THE REPAT. (loved the city, and the country)

6:49 AM  
Blogger Jim Lesses said...

Thank you for your kind comments, Elisa. Of course you can pass it along.

Since you did an internship at the 'Repat', I assume you are working in the medical or nursing profession. Therefore, rather than feel guilty, I urge you to find ways to help change the lives of these children and their families for the better. Guilt only eats away at you. Find ways to contribute positively to their lives and everyone benefits.

Thanks again for passing by.

Jim L

11:21 AM  

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