This year’s LA Film Festival is proud to host selections from Ambulante, the traveling film initiative established by Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal to promote documentary culture from across Mexico. I tend to avoid documentaries in favour of features, but even if it meant a mad dash from the Landmark to Westwood thanks to a previous late-start screening, I was not going to miss Nacido Sin.

The subject is José Flores, born into extreme rural poverty without arms (and some toes) and standing about 3 feet tall. My interest in him came about due to his role as the id of the Christ-figure in Alexandro Jodorowsky’s The Holy Mountain (1973), and he went on to have a fairly extensive screen career; quite aside from his arresting appearance, self-possession and strength of personality made him a pretty good actor. But he has now returned to his first profession as a street musician, playing the harmonica and the rubbing the “guiro” with a road attached to his foot (he also has rather a nice singing voice).

He makes a pretty good living at it, 200-300 pesos for a couple of hours, and cockfights are the best venues, for the drug dealers who think nothing of dropping him a 500 peso note. This is just as well as during the course of the film his wife Graciela is preparing to be delivered of her seventh caesarian section, and José is an inspirational and intensely proud father to his boys. His complete absence of self-pity and determination to live his life to the fullest extends even to flying in the face of his family: Graciela, it turns out, is his neice, and their relationship once made public did not go down well. Luckily, he has a priest friend who obtained dispensation from the bishop for them to marry, not that this stopped him from taking mistresses (a joke on one of his film locations was “poor little José has several wives”). Nonetheless, they make a sweetly devoted couple.

The director, Eva Norvind, had been a friend of Flores for over thirty years, and so this is an intimate, if uncritical portrait. It uses the sensible device of having Flores himself conduct several of the interviews, with his sisters and with an ex-girlfriend who reports their sex was good but she missed being held tight (another mistress had no problem with that and Graciela certainly doesn’t). It touches on the social problems faced by its subject and other disabled Mexican but the main thrust is to relate the fascinating and unusual story of his life. Sadly, Norvind died in an accident in 2006 and the film was completed by her daughter. It is a fine testament to both film-maker and subject.

Rating: 7.8/10

More on the film and Ambulante at the latter’s official site

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