by Joe Nolan
Natalia Almada: El Velador (The Night Watchman)
When: Reception 5:30 p.m., film 6 p.m. Thurs., Jan. 26
Where: Watkins College of Art & Design, 2298 Rosa L. Parks Blvd.
Natalia Almada’s Mexican roots are tangled deep in the country’s history through her great-grandfather Plutarco Elias Calles’ presidency and dictatorship of Mexico following the country’s revolution. The story of that man was told in Almada’s acclaimed film El General, which screened earlier this week as part of Watkins’ retrospective of the filmmaker’s work. Originally a photographer, Almada makes award-winning movies that contextualize personal stories within the broader social and cultural framework that defines — and obscures — lives lived on the other side of the Mexican border.
Her latest film, El Velador (The Night Watchman), tells a tale about violence without violence, following a security guard and a guardian angel on their rounds at a Sinaloan mausoleum that holds the remains of some of Mexico’s most ferocious drug kingpins. As Nick Schager wrote in a rave review recently in Slant:
El Velador doesn't pass judgment or manipulate emotionally, instead choosing simply to consider the arduousness of survival in a land wracked by slaughter. Almada's visuals speak volumes even as their precise intent remains open to interpretation, lending the film a figurative expansiveness that nicely meshes with its geographically narrow focus. Candles burn in shrines next to grave markers, a vendor cuts a piece of fruit on a stick for a young child, and wreathes are carried to memorial services—snapshots of sorrow, endurance, and ritual that resound with tranquil gravity.
Almada will be at Watkins as a visiting artist for today's reception and screening, free and open to the public.