La Ofrenda: The Days of the Dead

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In the guise of a documentary -- a comparative study of Mexican and Chicano celebrations in remembrance of the dead on the first and second of November each year -- La Ofrenda: The Days of the Deadis itself both an offering (ofrenda) and a subversive act. La Ofrenda explores Portillo's cultural heritage: the Mexico of her childhood and her home today, the Mission District, San Francisco's Chicano and Latino barrio. The script however, purposefully avoids autobiography as an organizing principle by using the alternating voiceover commentary of two nameless narrators, one male, one female. The film "speaks to" the Latino community, to all women and men who, like Portillo, have journeyed from Latin America to the United States or who live simultaneously in both cultures.

Imitating the playful Mexican and Chicano relation to death, which the film considers a healthy intimacy with mortality and humility, La Ofrenda playfully mocks its viewers, giving all of us, whatever our heritage, "a little push" toward a different concept "that constant companion," death

"A nontraditional look at [the tradition of the Day of the Dead] in a film saturated with color and life. Stunning to the eye, this exploration of a true phenomenon evokes the loving, sometimes humorous nature of Mexican attitudes toward death... La Ofrenda offers the viewer (an) opportunity to confront and contemplate one's own mortality while immersing oneself in a candlelit and sun-drenched film redolent with sensuousness and joy."
      -- Robert Hawk, Sundance Institute 1989

"It may well be that the biggest taboo for filmmakers today is spiritualism, for it's a quality that demands that the viewer open up to the work at a deeper level than most New York entertainment requires. Daughters of the Dust and La Ofrenda share this spirit of spiritual inquiry, and even Looking for Langston bathes its eroticism with a distinctive reverence. All of these films persist in making links to the past, in seeing the shadows of history on the present, and in opening up the surface to the depths below... These films return to the well of poetic inspiration and come to us with their buckets full. Poetry in motion, as the song used to say."
      -- B. Ruby Rich, The Village Voice, January 1992

1988 • With Susana Muñoz • Video • 50 min. • Documentary
Color • USA • Spanish and English • Subtitles
Distributor: Xochitl Productions

Funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting