Mexican filmmaker Yulene Olaizola has taken advantage of an ancient Mayan legend of Xtabay, a female demon who personifies herself in the form of a beautiful girl and lurks men in the jungles of the Yucatan Peninsula. Of course this demon has reasons to do so, and Olaizola modernized the story and set it somewhere in the late 19th century in the jungle along the Rio Hondo River that divides Mexico and present-day Belize which was then British Honduras. The personification of this demon is the beautiful young virgin Agnes who, in the company of her sister and plantation workers, escaped from an estate on the English side of the border and arranged a marriage. But they will not get far because Agnes will be captured by a Mexican team made up mostly of natives, and their task is to collect natural rubber from the trees that grow in those jungles.
Already the introductory scene is impressive because we see a few of these Indians climbing tall trees and chopping them up, and a rubbery liquid leaks out of them which is then collected and used to make rubber. It was a lucrative business from Latin America through Africa to Asia until rubber began to be produced artificially, and various groups of Mexicans and those from the English colonies engaged in the jucatan jungles. Soon the whole team that will capture Agnes will very soon become obsessed with the attractive fugitive, a young mulatto who seems to be fatal to all those who approach her. The Selva Trágica aka Tragic Jungle premiered in the Horizons section of the Venice Festival with typical Latin American magical (super) realism, and everything is shrouded in a veil of mysticism, legend and fantasy. You can watch Selva Trágica on the Netflix streaming service where available.
Stylistically and visually, it even somewhat resembles the works shot by the acclaimed Thai avant-garde filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul, one of the favorites of festival juries and world critics. It is a film that may have a basic narrative line, but more attention is paid to the senses, visuality, impression, so all these characters of the tire collector seem incredibly authentic and convincing, almost as if we went back a hundred or so years and watch a documentary about real people dealing with it. However, this authenticity has been upgraded with mysticism, fantasy and even eroticism, because it is rare for a forest worker to stay cold to the touch and call of this kind of rainforest mermaid. Rating 6.5 / 10.
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