I saw a film recently that lingered like the taste of bitter medicine. Beatriz at Dinner is the story of a Mexican immigrant (played by Salma Hayek); her roots firmly in the wilderness of her childhood home, but living and working in sprawling LA. The film opens in her bedroom at daybreak as she sits on the floor to cuddle an agitated pet goat. Eventually we come to understand that a disgruntled neighbour has recently murdered one of her goats, leaving its bloody carcass on the lawn for her to find.
Beatriz leaves for work. She’s a healer who uses her hands to massage away the troubles of her clients, but through the day we feel the heavy burden of her grief. At the end of her shift she drives her battered car through dense traffic and eventually pulls into an affluent gated community. Beatriz is there to give a massage to a private client, Kathy, who wants to relax before the dinner party she is hosting in celebration of her husband’s successful business deal.
After the massage, Beatriz’s car fails to start and all options for an emergency repair are found to be impossible. Kathy has a soft spot for Beatriz (believing that she helped her daughter recover from cancer) and graciously insists that Beatriz stays for dinner. As the wealthy guests arrive Beatriz is clearly out of place. Her plain clothes, brown skin and lack of adornment keep her on the invisible periphery of the group. Kathy remembers to introduce her but even then, Beatriz’s sincere, unaffected manner raises more than one eyebrow. At one point a guest mistakes her for the hired help and we cannot help but cheer as Beatriz remains stoic. Rather than giving into the anxiety we feel for her, she gently turns the conversation to deeper matters. Her desire for genuine connection is palpable.
At dinner things take a turn for the worst. Kathy’s husband’s business parter, Doug (played by John Lithgow), reveals himself as a capitalist of Trumpian proportions – grandiose, vulgar, sexist and entitled. As the other guests laugh along and suppress the odd cringe, Beatriz’s Latin blood begins to simmer. Despite Kathy’s efforts to diffuse the tension, Beatriz becomes increasingly impassioned – much to Doug’s amusement. Soon Doug is sharing a photograph of the rhinoceros he killed on safari and Beatriz cannot contain herself any longer. Kathy is shocked and embarrassed. Beatriz apologises and agrees to retire to the bedroom to rest.
Alone with her sadness and anger, Beatriz dreams of her childhood home. In her memories she is a girl again, drifting along sparkling waterways lined with dense green foliage. These scenes are a welcome respite from the ugly reality downstairs but they are all too fleeting – a metaphor in itself for a planet approaching crisis. The respite is short lived when Beatriz starts searching the internet and discovers that Doug’s real estate empire is responsible for the destruction (environmentally and economically) of a community near her home in Mexico. Beatriz rejoins the party, confronts Doug, and this time his attitude of amused condescension fails him: he is rattled and angry at Beatriz for revealing his guilt. The film continues in this vein to an end both inevitable and unfinished.
Beatriz at Dinner has received mixed reviews, but like C.C. Ford for the Daily Review and Max Cea for Salon, I’m a fan. This is Trump-era cinema and uncomfortable viewing at its best. Like Beatriz, I was left both sad and mad. I can do something with mad because every little action counts (support issues you believe in, challenge attitudes that are just not cool, reduce, reuse, recycle etc, etc, etc). Sad is harder. It can really get to you.
Long-time readers will know that I’m a country girl living an urban life in the heart of a major city. I love the pace and excitement of my world, but I need regular doses of peace and beauty to feel like a human. Last year I published a post featuring 16 nature photos taken over six years and today I’m publishing 19 nature photos taken over a six month period. Each moment depicted was and is a lungful of air. Be mad, but never forget to breathe. Peace out people ♥