“Guatemala is tired of weeping for its missing people,” a journalist says, wrapping up a report on the overturning of a court ruling that found a retired general guilty of genocide in the early 1980s. And La Llorona is a film about weeping.
The news report is being broadcast on a widescreen TV in a luxurious home and is soon drowned out by the chanting of protestors. We are inside the home of the aging general himself. “People have been saying bad things about grandpa on the internet,” says the preteen Sara (Ayla-Elea Hurtado) early in the story. The general is named Enrique Monteverde in the film, but clearly based on former chief of military intelligence Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez, who denied any responsibility for the genocide of the Maya Ixil people in court in September, 2018, which must have been just as the writing on this film was getting started.
Enrique is played by Julio Diaz, who looks like a veteran actor but IMDB has this as his only credit. Although Enrique agrees with his old military cronies on their strategy to never lower their heads, so they appear as heroes rather than victims, when the old man returns home under heavy guard and bulletproof vest, he is troubled. He believes he hears a woman crying in the middle of the night.
Attacks by the protesters have proven to be too much for the servants, and all but one has left during the trial. The loyal Valeriana (María Telón) tells the family she has sent for people she knows in her hometown, and soon arrives quiet Alma (María Mercedes Coroy) who fixes the adults with a haunting stare by bonds with the granddaughter. The maids are both Mayan Ixil, the ethnic group subject to the general’s genocide. With Alma’s arrival, Enrique is consumed by images of water, and the sounds of a woman weapon, and the film becomes both a social drama and a horror film. The actress and director Jayro Bustamante work together to make Alma both a frightened victim and unsettling.
Bustamante appeared after the screening at the Tokyo International Film Festival and said that the legend of La Llorona is one of the most well-known in all of Latin America. He said he wanted to share stories of Guatemala’s war with viewers who are too young to remember it. When he realized that young audiences like horror, he decided to combine a drama about genocide in which thousands of children were lost with the legend of the woman who was abandoned by a man and out of grief killed her own two children. The La Llorona of legend and Alma in the film can only go on weeping.