Santitos (1999)

Now for a film which I trust very few people will ever even have heard of, even though it was highly successful in its native Mexico. This is no doubt partially due to the fact that it is a foreign-language film, but probably also because it is difficult to market. Because, although Santitos is a beautiful film, described as “pure enchantment” by the L. A. Times, it is problematic to adequately define its genre.
The premise is simple: a mother has doubts about her only daughter’s death and hasty funeral. Instead, she strongly suspects a case of conspiracy and human trafficking. A deeply religious person, she appeals to her little saints, her santitos, and the lines between reality and delusion quickly begin to blur. The search for her daughter has some elements of a road movie, but also elements of a coming-of-age story. I cannot say more without spoiling the plot.
Tonally well balanced, Santitos has a permanent sad/tragic undercurrent, but also many humorous elements, ranging from subtle and sensitive, to tragicomic, and even to satirical.

The film is carried entirely by its central character, and I remember that Dolores Heredia does a fine job in her leading role, but far too much time has passed since I last saw this film for me to say anything more about the acting in this film

I will freely admit that my knowledge of Latin American cinema is almost non-existent. But in a way, the tone and the humour of Santitos are of such an “ilk” as if this film had been written and directed by a Brit. Which may be why this film appeals so much to me. But imagine my surprise when I learned that the director Alejandro Springall spent four years studying at the London Film School – since I read this I cannot help but wondering if there is a connection….

Be that as it may, I can confidently recommend Santitos as funny, moving and unique; probably best for viewing alone or in a small group, not in large company.

The film is available as a Region 1 DVD in Spanish with English subtitles. There seems to be no Region 2 release……

TRIVIA: The screenplay was written by María Amparo Escandón, based on her novel by the same name. However, as she has a bilingual approach to writing, her novel Santitos has simultaneously been published in English under the name Esperanza’s Box of Saints.

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