REVIEW: Chulas Fronteras at LALIFF 2019
by Julie Perez
“Mexican by ancestry/American by destiny/I am of the golden race/I am Mexican American.”
Chulas Fronteras is a Les Blank film that was presented at LALIFF 2019, the film was paired with the short documentary, Del Mero Corazón. Both films are a beautiful portrayal of Mexican music and where it comes from. Chulas Fronteras is presented as a compilation of norteño music being played at barbecues, wedding anniversaries, bars; with small pieces of interviews spread throughout the film. Though the film isn’t as much a deep dive into the subculture, as it is a celebration of what it represents and how it’s helped Mexicans and Mexican-Americans cope with life.
Though norteño music takes center stage in the film, the food comes as a close second. Chulas Fronteras reminds you how much food is used to build community in the Mexican household. It’s used as an excuse to bring people together, whether it’s the women making the tamales or the men gathering around the grill; food and music are the root of a good family gathering and this film doesn’t let you forget that.
For Mexicans, norteño music has always been a way to celebrate their history and for Mexican-Americans it has served as a way to stay close to their roots. The mood throughout the film attempts to remain upbeat but the looming reality of what Mexican-Americans deal with on a day-to-day basis quickly becomes a common theme. Whether it’s the way farmers have to often move across the country in order to find work when certain fruits and vegetables are in season or whether it’s the discrimination that they often face when entering a restaurant. Though this film was created in 1976, these issues still feel extremely relevant. Just a reminder that the steps we’ve taken since then have been baby steps, but at least we’ll always have our music.
I do have one gripe and it’s something that comes up with most Spanish-speaking films: the subtitles were off, not completely but enough to cause a distraction. Though usually it was one word that was off, I believe that the difference between “you are an evil man” and “you are a cold-hearted man” matters.
Chulas Fronteras feels like a time-capsule of a culture that struggles no matter what side of the border they are living on. It emphasizes the importance of the lyrics in the norteño songs and explains how they easily craft a heartbreaking tale whether it be of love or loss. This film serves as a wonderful history lesson and it feels like an absolutely necessary experience.