How perfect is it that I’m back in Oaxaca, at the 5th Annual International Film Festival, with a lanyard around my neck identifying me as “The Wailing Woman.”
In a Oaxaca plaza, checking out the program
It’s the name of the screenplay that earned me another spot in contention for the festival’s top writing award (I won in 2011 with “Mask of the Innocent”) but on first glance it could creep out anyone who’s ever heard the story of the legendary wailing woman or listened to Lila Downs or Chavela Vargas sing about it. She’s not me. Really. I don’t even have children and if they did I’d teach them to swim.
But wearing “The Wailing Woman” nametag around my neck is perfect because La Llorona’s true identity is part of the mystery of my screenplay. The logline I’ll be pitching to producers and directors in Oaxaca this week goes like this:
“A honeymoon in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula descends into psychological terror when the locals suspect the bride of being the reincarnation of La Llorona – a mythical, wailing woman cursed for eternity to search for her two children she drowned in a jealous rage.”
It’s based on actual events that made me wonder if I could have been La Llorona in a former life, except that I have a witness: the husband I saved from her clutches.
Gary is alive and with me in Oaxaca for the festival, taking beautiful photos of one of the loveliest spots on earth.
The Film Fest isn’t the only event in Oaxaca, there’s also the chihuahua parade
But if you ply him with enough tequila he’ll tell you the story of our encounter with La Llorona. It involves a very localized version of the legend, one in which she lures men to bodies of water at night before freezing and drowning them. (I guess her kids weren’t enough) In my screenplay it gets a lot more twisted, but in real life Gary woke up in a Mexican hotel room, next to a body of water, so completely frozen stiff that it took me an hour to thaw him with my body heat. I was the only woman staying at the hotel and let’s just say recounting the story the next morning to people who believe in La Llorona made me feel less than welcome.
The press conference reception
The post-opening night party, sponsored by Dos Equis
Here in Oaxaca, it’s the exact opposite. The festival director, Ramiz Adeeb Azar and staff have made me feel like returning royalty. Even a reporter who interviewed me three years ago came up to me at the opening party last night with a big hug and crossed fingers that “The Wailing Woman” takes home another Agave Award. He’d read the synopsis, translated into Spanish courtesy of the lovely Josefina Blanc, and got chills wondering if La Llorona could still be wandering among us.
But just to be on the safe side, Gary and I are staying nowhere near a body of water.
(here’s a teaser of the opening scene, followed by Josefina’s translation of the synopsis in Spanish.)
FADE UP: The distant shape of a woman’s back is obscured by a humid jungle mist. She’s wearing mourning black, sobbing as she stands over a sinkhole filled with clear blue water. There’s something dangling from each hand, dolls maybe? She flings them into the water below, one at a time. There’s a heavy splash, a high-pitched wail, and then another heavy splash. We realize these are children.
En un comienzo, la escena -enmarcada entre las exóticas ruinas mayas y las pozas de agua de la exuberante jungla- es un lugar de encanto para los novios Lara y Alex, pero pronto emerge su amenaza inherente. Lara se niega a permitir que los recientes reportes de personas ahogadas ahonden su impresión de estar en tierra desconocida, incluso cuando nota que el personal del complejo turístico evita todo contacto con ella. El reparto es íntimamente pequeño: un amistoso -quizás demasiado- barman, miembro de un grupo musical nombrado en honor a La Llorona, y dos arqueólogos mexicanos que investigan los túneles subterráneos que los antiguos dirigentes mayas usaban para efectuar dramáticos escapes y reapariciones entre templos remotos. Sin embargo, cuando la hermosa experta en cultura Maya , Julianna, entra en escena e inicia un coqueteo con Alex, dos misteriosos y silenciosos niños emergen de la niebla y acechan a Lara. Son acaso simples mendigos que intentan ganar la simpatía de una turista, o son los fantasmas de los asesinados hijos de La Llorona que han retornado en búsqueda de venganza?