Nuestras Madres: an untold tale of resilient Guatemalan women

The film depicts the unheard voices of Guatemalan women that were victims of the civil war

Nuestras Madres, directed by César Díaz, a Belgian-Guatemalan film director who’s worked on multiple documentary films, takes place in Guatemala in 2018 during the trial of soldiers who started the civil war. Nuestras Madres won the Caméra d’Or at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival.

The Guatemalan Civil War, which spanned from 1960 to 1996, was a war between the Guatemalan government and leftist groups due to unfair land distribution. The war led to the killing and disappearances of many civilians, but also the genocide of Mayan communities.

Ernesto (Armando Espitia) is a young anthropologist from the Medical-Legal Foundation in Guatemala City working on the massacre of civilians and guerrilleros from the country’s civil war. One day, he is acquainted with a Q’eqchi’ woman named Nicolasa (Aurelia Caal) seeking his help to exhume the body of her husband, Mateo, who was tortured and shot by soldiers.

In one scene, Nicolasa shows Ernesto a picture of guerrilleros. Ernesto is shocked as he recognizes the face of his father, who disappeared during the war. He goes to his desk and comes back to her with a picture of his father as he tries to compare both faces from the photographs.

This leads Ernesto to embark on the search for his father and strikes a need to understand his disappearance. In the end, Ernesto will be surprised to know the untold story of his mother Cristina (Emma Dib) who kept her experience during the war secret from him.

Díaz did a remarkable job in illustrating stories that depict realities that many Guatemalans lived throughout the civil war. The movie is a testimonial to the many Indigenous women who suffered during the civil war as they were the main target during the early 80s.

The movie is filled with sincerity. Through the characters, one can feel the pain and the suffering that has lived inside the victims for so long.

A poignant scene from the film occurs when several Mayan women from Nicolasa’s village decide to give their testimony about the war to Ernesto, while he visits to dig up Mateo’s body. A series of women’s faces are then shown on the screen, each of them having a different portrait but sharing the same pain for several years. They were once living in silence; now, they are heard.

Their faces represent the many people who endured the atrocities of the war. They allow people from around the world, who’ve experienced similar events, to have the possibility of connecting with this community.

Díaz’s work is a recognition of the people who lived through the war and who are still healing from it. The movie serves as an opportunity for the audience to understand the way in which these events can be traumatizing.

Many viewers may be unaware of the Guatemalan Civil War. Nuestras Madres gives people the opportunity to find out how a war that is little spoken about can leave a country with disturbing memories and many suffering in silence.

Nuestras Madres  is playing at Cinéma Moderne on 5150 St-Laurent Blvd. The next viewing will be on Oct. 3. Tickets are available online

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