Among the titles competing for the Golden Bear at the 2023 Berlinale, the sophomore feature by Mexican filmmaker Lila Avilés brims with vitality. It delves into our place among the living, pinching the viewer to reconsider the essence of life and the connections we form and the individuals we impact. Tótem (read review) unfolds through the eyes and ears of a diminutive young protagonist who, like any child, navigates the adult world—a realm that is both inviting and sheltered by protective barriers. And while there is the commonality with her solid feature debut (The Chambermaid) in terms of an unfiltered look at those existing in the peripheries, Avilés expands her vocabulary by working with a template that feels different.
Since my interview with Lila, Tótem has become a film festival favorite — it was showcased at Telluride, landed Mexico’s Best International Film nomination (making it two for two for the filmmaker) and was just nominated to the Gotham Awards’ Best International Feature category. In my short sit down with the filmmaker, we discussed how motherhood helped shape her path as a storyteller and we discussed how Naíma Sentíes landed the lead part of Sol.