“I Dream in Another Language” (“Sueño en otro idioma”)
Linguist Martin (Fernando Álvarez Rebeil) ventures to a Mexican town where three people speak the dying language of Zikril. It seems that the language has a magical significance, particularly with a Zikril afterlife featuring souls that can heard at night. After one of the three dies, the only two remaining speakers are old men, Evaristo (Eligio Melendez) and Isauro (José Manuel Poncelis). The two men used to be friends, but have not spoken to each other in years due to some kind of falling out. With the help of Evaristo’s daughter Lluvia (Fátima Molina), Martin tries to convince the stubborn Evaristo to translate for his old friends, Isauro, who only speaks Zikril
.Martin becomes romantically connected to Lluvia behind Evaristo’s back while Evaristo consistently refuses to participate. Through an extended flashback about what drove Evaristo and Isauro apart years ago, we get a sense of fantasy with learning about this language. Adults here are in search of magic within real human situations and even a good amount of sexual content.
Once we learn why the two men fell out, “I Dream in Another Language” becomes quite powerful. It leads to events that don’t entirely match the dramatic demands, but it continues to make this a unique story. I began to wonder how it would be to live in a world where only one other person spoke my language (although there are times that I feel no one speaks my language). The film is based on a news article about the last two speakers of the Zoque language in Tabasco, Mexico who wouldn’t talk to each other because of an old disagreement. Director Ernesto Contreras uses that idea to look at what the extinction of a particular worldview represents beyond mere communication. By not knowing a language, we don’t realize when it happens in terms of culture, knowledge, roots, traditions, etc.”
We are introduced to a magical realist universe hidden within a rural setting through the eyes of an urban outsider who arrives to save the heritage of this community before it’s too late. Martin is a young and idealistic linguist and is determined to document the Zikril language. He tries to convince Isauro (and Evaristo to have a series of conversations he can record in order to safeguard their nearly extinct tongue. Zikril, the language used in the film, is entirely fictional but was created with the intention of making listeners believe it could actually be one spoken in the region.
Lluvia is a young woman who is desperate to leave her small town and who spends her days teaching English via radio to the men and women around her preparing to travel north in search of the American dream. Religious aspects prevail and we see how these influence the behavior and decisions of the characters. We also see the dream of so many Mexicans to come to the United States for an opportunity to improve their situation. There is a paradox of how we can be worried about learning this language [English], while we forget about the other one and causing it to die completely.
Contreras omits captions that could help us understand the conversations in Zikril, except for very specific moments that could be elevated by the use of written translations. The viewer won’t understand what they are saying to each other but will understand the emotions. Mysticism is employed in subtle doses that manage to charm the audience without breaking the spell of reality or veering into overly fantastical territory and the film is actually playing with imagination, with sounds, music, and atmosphere.
The flashbacks depict the life of the two protagonists as young men in the 1970’s living in a traditional society that was not accepting of them and their indigenous background. The film blends a“a tale as old as time with a rumination on the ravages that the passing years can inflict, both in cementing emotional scars and in disintegrating indigenous cultures”. While taking place in the present, the narrative not only plays with myth-like aspects, but also uses flashbacks to show the ailing, antagonists’ feud. Martin’s mission to analyze as many Mexican languages as possible is dependent upon Isauro and Evaristo’s reconciliation. Several early scenes place significant emphasis on unraveling the mystery behind the central love triangle, one that doesn’t remain a secret for long. Some major developments are entirely foreseeable even as the film flirts with the fantastical and metaphorical and Contreras manages to make his layered story into a quietly involving affair, particularly in the middle.