Sunday, December 04, 2011

Ibermedia at MoMA: La Yuma

At the current exchange rate, a million dollar baby would be about 22,895,000 Cordoba in Nicaragua. Don’t call for aspiring boxer Virginia “La Yuma, the Wildcat” Roa that. She is not exactly Rocky either. Still, she intends to fight her way out of the Managua barrio in Florence Jaugey’s La Yuma (trailer here), a Nicaraguan production supported by Ibermedia, which screens as part of Iberoamérican Images, MoMA's retrospective tribute to the Iberian and Latin American film consortium.

La Yuma is in with a gang, but he heart is in boxing. Waging a cold war with her mother’s loutish live-in boyfriend, her home life is not great, but it fuels her training. Her punk brother does not make things any easier. Yet, he inadvertently precipitates her class-spanning romance when Yuma returns a computer disk to Ernesto, the university student he mugged. With one of Managua’s top trainers taking her on, things appear to be on track for Yuma, but the gang still considers her one of their own.

While not a boxing film in the tradition of Cinderella Man, La Yuma does not cheat fans of the gentlemanly art of self-defense, including one full length four-round amateur bout, as well as a generous helping of sparring. The “Wildcat,” played by Alma Blanco, is an engaging underdog, small but quick, with convincing technique and footwork. She is quite a good romantic lead as well, tough and tender in her scenes with Ernesto.

Indeed, Blanco has star power, but her partner, not so much. However, Eliézer Traña has an undeniable presence as Yader, her former trainer, an unusually well developed platonic best friend character, who also offers something for the ladies as a part-time cut-rate Chippendale dancer.

La Yuma is gritty and naturalistic, but Jaugey wisely resists the temptation to revel in the meanness of the barrio. Rather, she keeps things moving along at a healthy clip. In fact, she throws the audience a third act curve ball that might confuse some viewers (since it leaves many subplots unresolved), but is actually quite satisfying.

Jaugey’s film would make an interesting pairing with Gerardo Chijona Valdes’ Ticket to Paradise, which also screens during the Ibermedia retrospective at MoMA. In both films, young protagonists adopt unconventional strategies to get out of their present circumstances. However, both the conditions and method of escape are far more desperate in 1980’s Cuba than contemporary Nicaragua. A visceral portrait social menace and decay, Ticket is not exactly effective propaganda for the current regime, so presumably the support of Ibermedia must have been instrumental to its production.

Sort of a film of empowerment, but in a scrupulously realistic way, La Yuma is definitely recommended when it screens again this Thursday (12/8). Ticket is also well worth seeing when it screens this Friday (12/9) and the following Sunday (12/11) as part of Iberoamérican Images, now underway at MoMA.