A deep reimagining of the Weeping Woman that inspires justice and empowerment. Following the fictional retelling of the very real trial regarding genocide in Guatemala in the 80s. As part of the For the Culture series, Ghouls are educating on the guilty verdict of dictator Jose Efrain Rios Mott and exploring the film's genius revenge spin on Latin folklore.
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The Guilty Verdict of Guatemala's Former Dictator Jose Efrain Rios Montt
RED: Quotes, someone else's words.
This is your daily reminder from Kat that we know so little about that world and forever have things to learn. If you didn’t remember how messed up humanity is, we hope this series will remind you that history is HORRIFIC, and our media does a fantastic job of educating the population of these horrors by giving us new things to question, explore and learn about.
In this post we’ll unpack the guilty verdict for Guatemala's former dictator Jose Efrain Rios Montt during his genocide trial in Guatemala City, Friday, May 10, 2013. In the film we watched, La Llorona (2019), we get a glimpse into this history. One thing that’s really beautiful about this film is that it is really saying something, and is made intentionally and with the purpose of educating viewers about things they may not have otherwise learned about. In an article from the nation titled Guatemalas’ Genocide on Trial the charges against Rios Montt, who at the time was 86, are outlined as stemming from 1982 to 1983, after a coup where he seized power. This trial was focused specifically on the human rights crimes that Rios Montt’s army committed in the Ixil region. Specifically the 1,771 Indigenous Mayans that were killed, and the 29,000 displaced by his scorched-earth strategy aimed at destroying the Ixil communities entirely.
During the trial, the prosecution provided evidence that the army’s tactics were planned, organized and implemented according to a collection of documents issued by Rios Montt’s regime. The article cites a specific document, “Plan Victoria 82,” which was issued internally amount high command in June 1982. This document called for the “annihilation” of armed guerrillas and the Mayan people who assisted them with information, food, and shelter. Ultimately, they claimed that the Mayan people were a threat to their Anti-communist ideal, and thus an “internal enemy”. This was done to suggest the necessity of their massacre by military attack. The Judge of the trial, Judge Barrios describes the impact of that strategy when reading the verdict “the Ixiles were subjected to massacre and forced disappearance; systematic rape; the killing of children, women and the elderly; the burning of their homes; the slaughter of their animals; the destruction of their crops; massive displacement; and death by hunger, sickness and bombing when they sought refuge in the mountains.”
Something that is interesting about this trial, is that the verdict was used as a means of the government recognizing it’s crimes, faults and injustices. The trial itself an attempt to atone for the actions, and provide the populace with some semblance of closure, by recognizing the historical trauma that had taken place. The verdict acted as the government’s acknowledgement that “the systematic destruction of Mayan communities was the most radical expression possible of the racism, social exclusion and abuse that Guatemala’s indigenous people had endured for hundreds of years.”
In the trial’s defense, Rios Montt’s lawyers attempted to absolve their client of guilt by suggesting his distance from the battlefield removed his accountability from his army’s actions. His lawyers agreed that massacres took place, but denied Montt’s involvement. This was not accepted by the judges, and instead the three judge panel identified the general as the “Intellectual Author” of the crimes, “the mastermind behind a system of discrimination and destruction.” The article goes on to note that in convicting Rios Montt, the former head of state, and commander in chief rather than his subordinates, the judges confirmed the genocidal intent “not of one material perpetrator but of the state as a whole.” Recognizing that the genocide was a systemic one, allowed by many facets of the society, extending from government defense of Montt’s plan, to intentionally misleading school curriculums minimizing his crimes.
Grossly, although not surprisingly, the US had their own role in this genocide. The Reagan administration was seeking allies in Guatemala as they were fighting a SECRET war against the Nicaraguan Sandinistas. When Rios Montt gained power in 1982, the Reagan administration sought them as an ally, to end a long freeze on Guatemalan-US relations. Reagan went as far to compliment Rios Montt, A DICTATOR, as one “totally dedicated to democracy” calling him “a man of great personal integrity and commitment”. The administration went on to say that Rios Montt’s government had made “significant progress” in improving human rights, and insisted upon that in order to lift the US embargo on military aid to Guatemala. Essentially meaning US dollars helped fund the genocide.
Rios Montt was given a guilty verdict on 10 May 2013, convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity, sentenced to 80 years imprisonment. Ten days later, that ruling was overturned. He was retried in January 2015, and found guilty, however he could not be sentenced due to his age and deteriorating health conditions.
Media from this week's episode:
La Llorona (2020) Director: Jayro Bustamante
Summary by IMDB: An aging paranoid war criminal, protected by his faithful wife, faces death while being haunted by the ghosts of his past.
La Llorona: Empowered Reimagining of the Weeping Woman
RED: Quotes, someone else's words.
Jayro Bustamante’s La Llorona is not your classic Weeping Woman tale. This is nothing like the Curse of La Llorona which is a part of the Conjuring/Warrens series of films and we are thankful for that. Curse of La Llorona followed a white woman in LA who was tormented by a non-specified latina woman. A story that utilized latinx folklore for lackluster jumpscares and poor CG effects.
Jayro’s film takes the children’s tale of terror and transforms the depressed, wronged aquatic villain and makes her righteous. Similar to the Yurei we explored in our J Horror episode, the Weeping Woman is a folktale that changes its specifics but at the core is a woman so distraught, she is forever tied to the land and condemned to repeat the same savage act for all eternity. Even Haunting of Bly Manor featured a drenched villain who drowned innocent victims who simply got in her way, making the least interesting episode of the entire series leaving much to be desired. This La Llorona however, is not spurned or jealous. She does not pursue children to fill the hole left by the murder of her own. Instead, she seeks out justice and retribution. Her only victims are those deserving of terror not the wayward misbehaving child as the folklore often depicted.
Jayro’s film focuses on a fictionalized version of the real trial and aftermath of former Guatemalan dictator Jose Efrain Rios Montt as described by Kat in the facts section. We are introduced to these characters in the middle of the trial. Jose, now Enrique for fiction purposes, is old and fragile. Clearly, this isn’t a man who committed genocide yesterday but is being held accountable for actions long since passed. In the courtroom are many women covered in elaborate, beautiful shawls. They speak on their experiences of pain, grief and their desire for justice. This part of the film, as well as the protests we see later are directly reflecting the real life events of that time.
I think what first struck me as brilliant with this film was the depth and use of thirds in the cinematography. When Enrique, stressed and on-edge due to the trial, roams around his house searching out the sounds of weeping we are confronted with an image that drives home the narrative of a depleted, old man. To the left of the screen, hanging on his closet door is his suit for the trial, the middle serves as an organic split, and to the right is Enrique in his pajamas, holding a gun, seated on the edge of the tub. He is a distraught and broken man, pursuing his paranoia and guilt personified as a woman weeping. It is a contrast between that suit he wears, the performance he puts on, then darkness that is always looming on the edges and his truth, in the light and broken. Throughout the film, as he is skulking around the house, there is always this suffocating vignette of darkness around him and he is often cut off or separated in the scenes by natural elements in the frame.
The film does not rely on classic jump-scares (as the Curse of La Llorona did). Throughout, you are simply uncomfortable and the horrors were in actuality the reality of the situation. The history and truth of this man committing genocide, going free for years and now, when justice is being offered his guilty verdict is ultimately overturned. We don’t need a ghoulish woman to explain why we should be afraid of a man like Enrique or why we should be angry with his supporters. Instead, we are terrorized by flashbacks and by the protestors outside this house chanting names and holding photos of missing loved ones. There’s a review in the LA times called, La Llorona Smartly Reimagines a Folk Legend as a Political Horror Story and one of the quotes from that says “La Llorona” avoids the tropes of horror: the screechy violins and bumping furniture. Instead, this smart and elegant film feels like a languid bit of cinematic magical realism where strange things happen — and the real horror lies not in the supernatural but in the savage acts of men. Which is incredibly true but you feel uncomfortable in your stress and you're like “What's gonna happen?” You're really curious and concerned for the people. She torments them to then do the work for her. In the classic tale of La Llorona, she's drowning children and in this she doesn't drown anyone she just shows you the truth and walks you through the trauma and the terror so that you exact revenge for her. You are the instrument of revenge. Ultimately, what is worse - either this haunting ghost drowns you or your wife kills you? It is such a unique take and I really appreciated it.
There’s a scene where Alma and the daughter are looking out the window and there's the missing posters and they're saying to each other, “I think that's him.” and so it's like a picture of a guy and in the crowd of protesters that guy is there because the ghosts are already haunting them. It’s more than La Llorona, it's all the people wronged and murdered.
Alma, our protagonist, who is native is darker skinned, has long black hair and is a natural beauty that his granddaughter admires. These people clearly come from the colonizers and are lighter skinned while Alma is Mayan. She's of the native people who were victimized. So for the daughter to have an unfiltered and honest appreciation for her beauty shows the potential for redemption in this family.
The strength of this film is the transformations within the women in his life. There's many conversations with the wife and daughter that we talked about in the Facts Section where they are making excuses for him or they're believing the narratives that he tells them because it benefits them. The alternative is acknowledging that your husband or your father is that evil. It’s an incredibly difficult reality to grapple with and it's something where you would much rather believe whatever other excuses he gives you than to believe that he's evil. His wife says, “Oh women, especially the darker skinned women, always throw themselves at him.” and later we find that like he's been promiscuous and infidelious since the maid is actually his daughter and she is one of the native women. The wife, in the beginning, is on his side but as the story progresses we see that she has been dealing with so much and she's been trying to make sense of it or to file it away and believe whatever it is that he tells her because it's better than the truth. There's another interesting element where the wife is plagued with dreams where she is Alma and she is living her trauma and it's affecting her to the point where she is the one who commits the justice at the end. She's being confronted with this very vulnerable story that she has to live through with these children that are very clearly not hers because they're darker but she cares for them. It was a unique way to torment each one of them.
There's another article I found on The Verge titled La Llorona is not the Ghost Story You’re Expecting, which says, Enrique is an arrogant patriarch with few redeeming qualities, although it takes time to understand everything he’s done. His wife and daughter are more complicated. While the film jabs at their condescension, cruelty toward other women, and casual racism, their most horrible beliefs are driven by love — because loving the monstrous, abusive Enrique means ignoring or justifying what he’s done. And that requires hardening themselves into something cruel and vicious, calling his victims liars or pretending that they don’t exist. I think at the end of the day, the real horror was that he had people reasoning for him and Alma/La Llorona’s real terror was turning them against him because that's all he had at the end of the day. He has people who were believing him despite the alarming evidence.
One of the quotes that really stuck with me was in the trial where the woman removes the veil and she says, “I'm not ashamed to tell you what happened to me and so I hope you will not be ashamed to do the justice for what happened to me.” It is essentially, “Horrible things happened to me and I have to accept that and you also have to accept that.” which is the whole purpose of the trial, to just acknowledge that it happened, that it was wrong and that someone needs to be punished for it. So hopefully like people who watch this film learn that something happened in 2013 that we weren't paying attention to. That things were happening in the 80s that we weren't paying attention to and that things are probably happening right now that we're not paying attention to and that we can look to hopefully better punish the people who are at fault in doing those awful things.
Kat - And ultimately not repeat the same historical atrocities. If we have a history that is so horrific and we don't look at it, there's no stopping it from happening again. The best thing everyone can do is learn about the horrible things that have happened and not just feel sad about it because that's useless. What we need to do is look at these things and learn about them and know what caused it so that if we notice those things happening again that we're able to prevent it from happening. We need to escape our little bubbles of ignorance in our own little worlds and realize that there's a bigger world out there and that things are happening and just confront them. We have to confront them, we have to look at them in the eye and acknowledge that they exist so that we can then move on and try to do something different.
I think this film does a really good job of showing the complexities of people and that there's all these layers. It's heavily focused on women and there's just the two men in this film and neither one of them is trustworthy and safe. It’s a story about these women who are each affected in some way by this man and coping with what happened and how it's going to forever change who they are.