MIFF 2015: Elena Anaya Shines in Todos están muertos

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Todos están muertos (They Are All Dead) is a weird movie. Humorous, sad, and as sweet as pie. It's grounded in the lovely magical realism that often seems deeply embedded in Spanish culture.

The film focuses on Lupe (Elena Anaya), who was once an eighties rock star and now lives as an agoraphobic mother -- a woman who can't stop making apple pie and lives at odds with her own mother, Paquita (Angélica Aragón), and son Pancho (Christian Bernal). It's only when her mother performs a Day of the Dead ritual with her friend that the ghost of Lupe's brother, Diego (Nahuel Pérez Biscayart), is brought into her life.

See also: Miami International Film Festival 2015 Embraces Local Filmmakers

His return is where the film finds its footing, the interactions between the human world and the spirit world make for a solid narrative as does the exploration of death and mourning. The problem with this one, though, is that the human interactions aren't quite as polished as one might wish. The plot meanders and sometimes feels like just another indie film.

But there's plenty to like in Beatriz Sanchís' debut feature, even if it lacks focus. She makes every bit of the fake musical history in the film feel real, as though Lupe and Diego's band, Groenlandia, really existed. And that makes Diego's ghostly return - meant to encourage his sister to be a better mother - all the more believable. Sanchis creates an atmosphere in which this could all actually happen, where the living can interact with spirits (the very '90s production design helps).

Much can be said about Elena Anaya's stellar performance - whose presence in a film is impossible not to get excited about, especially after her turn in Pedro Almodóvar's La piel que habito. Yet it leaves one wishing that Todos están muertos had solely been a character study of Lupe and the way she handles grief. Had the film focused her roles as a sister, a daughter, and a mother, instead of constantly shifting to Pancho as often as it does, Todos might have a better film. Every time Lupe is confronted with her past, and more importantly, with her absolute fear of leaving her home, we witness Anaya at her absolute best.

As Pancho says near the end, "It's hard to say goodbye, but it's harder to leave without saying it." It's the kind of fear that pushes us to do strange things, and it makes those who have passed away wish to return and undo their mistakes. By exploring these themes, Sanchís has made an interesting debut with Todos están muertos, but it's one that could have used a little more focus and even more of its amazing leading lady.

Todos están muertos is playing at Cinepolis on Monday, March 9th, at 9:30 p.m. and the Coral Gables Art Cinema on Wednesday, March 11th, at 9:30 p.m. as part of the Miami International Film Festival. Tickets cost $13. Visit miamifilmfestival.com.

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