ROOTS (Benito Alazraki, 1954)

Benito Alazraki’s Raíces consists of four nonprofessionally cast, non-studio segments, each based on a story by Francisco Rojas Gonzáles about native Mexicans. Only the final segment, “La Potranca,” is without merit.
     The “cows” of “Las Vacas” refer to humans and the choices that poverty presses. Martina’s unemployed spouse sees stealing as the only open alternative. Leaving her infant daughter behind with him, Martina ignores her husband’s protests and holds him back from crime by becoming a wet nurse for a rich couple’s infant. The woman will not allow Martina to nurse her own baby; “I will need all your milk for my son,” she explains. Thus the title discloses another irony: the rich, with their Spanish ancestry and insatiable sense of entitlement, are cows devouring every blade of the country’s grass.
     But the jewel of Raíces is “El Tuerto” (“The One-Eyed”). “In Yucatán, as in any other place in the world,” an Indian mother’s voiceover notes, “children can be very cruel. No one knows this better than Ángel.” Ángel is taunted and bullied by peers for having one eye; using a dynamic neorealist camera borrowed from Rossellini, Alazraki shows a group assault on Ángel. Ángel tells an adult who counsels that he not come around anymore, “They beat me wherever I go.” As Ángel watches, a child helps a young blind man across the street.
     After failing with Indian remedies, his mother takes Ángel to a Catholic shrine and prays for the restoration of his blind eye. “You must have faith, my son,” she tells Ángel. An accident then robs Ángel of what sight he had. Walking back home, Ángel flails his arms and curses life; but his mother explains that this “miracle” means that no one will beat him again.
     Religion leads both away from the actual problem.

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