Friday, July 25, 2008

Hola Mexico: Born Without

Mexico does not look like a particularly congenial environment for buskers, but Jose Flores is still able to support a wife and now seven children from tips earned during his performances. Years ago, Flores caught the eye of future director Eva Norvind, but initially it was not so much his music that fascinated her, but the very sight of the diminutive street performer born without arms. Eventually she would profile Flores in the documentary Born Without (Nacido Sin), with her daughter Nailea completing the post-production process after her death (trailer here). It screened last night as part of the Hola Mexico Film Festival, following successful festival appearances in Europe and Mexico.

Playing a harmonica strapped around his neck and accompanying himself on g├╝iro with his foot, Flores sounds like a good busker (if not extraordinary like Satan and Adam in their prime). However, Norvind was more interested in Flores’ life than his music. He is indeed married to the devoted Graciela, who is expecting their seventh child as the film opens. We see him barnstorming around Mexico with her help, to play outside carnivals and festivals in search of lucrative audiences. It seems a strange twilight existence he and his fellow buskers lead, but at least the Flores have a respectable home and family to return to.

In addition to music, Flores has also appeared in films, amassing a singularly unusual filmography. His screen credits include Alejandro Jodorowsky’s tripped out The Holy Mountain, Nicholas Echevarria’s only slightly less trippy Cabeza de Vaca, and Didn’t Do It For Love, Monika Treut’s documentary about director Norvind’s S&M career. Of particular interest to cineastes are interview segments with Jodorowsky, sounding either very cool and broad-minded, or totally cold and self-centered, it is hard to tell which.

Clearly, Norvind found Flores to be an admirable subject. However, Without reveals certain problematic aspects of Flores’ life late in the film—essentially as a third act surprise—that definitely make you stop and say: “huh, how about that?” It puts a twist on the audience’s feelings for Flores, but it makes for a more interesting film.

Without is not all noble inspiration, all the time, but rather a surprisingly nuanced profile of a unique individual. The film’s soundtrack is just okay—Latin music lovers need not pine for its theatrical release solely for the score and performances. However, Flores’ story is definitely memorable and one certainly hopes for the best for him after watching Without.