Thursday, August 2, 2018
Nate Hood on Tigers Are Not Afraid (2018) Fantasia 2018
So begins Issa López's TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID, a bold piece of magical realism that takes an unflinching look at the horrors of Mexico's drug war. Borrowing as much from street children cinema like PIXOTE (1980), ALI ZAOUA (2000), and CITY OF GOD (2002) as it does from the films of fellow Mexican fabulist Guillermo del Toro, it presupposes a world with no conflict between documentary realism and ostentatious fantasy. Both strains are represented in concurrent plots: Estrella's magical search for her mother and the orphans' struggle against gangsters hunting them for stealing an iPhone with incriminating video evidence on it. But like the aforementioned Del Toro, she manages to keep both styles balanced so neither outweighs the other, reveling in their gorgeous contradictions instead of pretending they don't exist. The result is a film of spectacular beauty; many of the images in this film will haunt me for years—a crowd of orphans warming themselves to a burning piano, an abandoned mansion with a leaky floor full of striped goldfish, and ghosts, oh so many ghosts. Ghosts of murdered masses in sarcophagi of shrink wrap, ghosts of bloodied parents, ghosts of boys shivering in eternal cold. López's portrayal of modern Mexico is grim and tragic, but not without hope. For as with many fantasy movies, TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID is itself a story about stories and how they can save and liberate from suffering. As long as we have fairy tales, López argues, the bastards burning the world can't destroy everything.