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Film / I Dream In Another Language

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From Sundance award-winning director Ernesto Contreras comes the tragic tale of a dying tongue, the remnants of its culture, and most of all, the human connection.

It ain’t always easy being a translator, but who said it could be this hard? One fateful afternoon, a linguist named Martín arrives in a rural Mexican village, where the last three speakers of the once-thriving Zikril tongue live. One of those speakers, Jacinta, guides him to a sacred place in the deep wilderness; she tells him that Zikril is not just a way for people to talk to one another, but also a way to connect with the world’s animals. From that point on, the well-being of this mysterious language becomes Martín’s highest priority.

But come the next morning, Jacinta passes on. The remaining two speakers of the language, Isauro and Evaristo, have been at odds with each other for fifty years. In spite of the major challenge their relationship poses, Martín is determined to keep the memory of Zikril alive no matter what. The real question is, will his dedication pay off?


Tropes featured include:

  • Central Theme: Is a dying language really worth keeping alive, or should we focus on current trends? Regret is another.

  • Creation Myth: In the opening minutes, Jacinta mentions that many eons ago, an entity named Woman Bird fell in love with the first man. But because there was a language barrier between them, Woman Bird had to teach the man how to speak Zikril. When her teachings came to pass, the two of them developed their love for each other and gave birth to all the fauna on Earth, and later taught them Zikril so they could maintain harmony among themselves.

  • Dead Person Conversation: Not long after Isauro dies, Evaristo manages to get in touch with and apologize to him.
    • Much earlier in the movie, Flaviana tries to have a conversation with the now-dead Jacinta; it fails since one, Flaviana doesn't speak Zikril and two, Martín (Who doesn't have any Zikril in his blood whatsoever) is nearby when she makes her attempt.

  • Foil: Lluvia to Martín. While the former does not care at all about preserving Zikril and wants to learn English so she can get a job in the United States, the latter intends on keeping Zikril alive at all costs, even if it ends up leading to heightened tension between the last two speakers of the language.
    • Evaristo to Isauro. The former is hot-headed, refuses to communicate in Zikril even though he knows how to speak it, and only thinks about the future, while the latter is calm-mannered, only speaks Zikril, and is happy to associate himself with the language and its culture.

  • Irony: According to Jacinta, the Zikril culture began with the bonding of Bird Woman and First Human. In the film’s closing moments, the same culture dies with the permanently-severed friendship (Already quite tense by that point) between the last two speakers of the language.

  • Let the Past Burn: During the last half hour, Evaristo sets Isauro's house ablaze so as to make sure he can scrub every trace of him and his relationship with Maria from his life.

  • Lost Language: Even though there are characters who speak Zikril, they are reluctant to directly tell Martín what any of the words mean. Though at the end of the movie, he does manage to learn "upive," the word for “friend”. One of the movie’s central ideas is that because many dying languages don’t operate on the same ideological principles as modern languages, they can never be fully understood by people who weren’t born into those cultures.

  • OOC Is Serious Business: Compared to Evaristo, Isauro is typically much calmer and soft-spoken. He changes his attitude dramatically when Evaristo comes to the Enchantment Cavern to communicate with his spirit, going so far as to swear at him for burning his house.

  • Precision F-Strike: Isauro, of all people, says the word "motherfucker" when he scolds Evaristo for attempting to murder him.

  • Skipping School: During the flashback sequence, a young Isauro is busy attending Sunday school when his friend Evaristo drops by and convinces him to hang out with him at the beach. Isauro complies and promptly plays hooky, eventually leading to the boys’ Love Triangle with Maria.

  • Spirit World: The Enchantment, the afterlife of the Zikril. It can only be accessed by the souls of people born into the culture (And language thereof) and upon dying, their bodies must be laid in a very specific cavern on their sacred grounds.
Flaviana and Martín approach the mouth of a cave in the jungle, attempting to communicate with the recently-deceased Jacinta
Flaviana: Can you hear [the spirits]?
Martín: It’s the river from last night.
Flaviana: It wasn’t a river, it was them. When a Zikril dies, they all come out to get him and bring him here.
Martín: Are all the Zikril inside?
Flaviana: Yes, in an eternal celebration. They call it "The Enchantment."
Martín: Are they alive? (Tries to enter the cave)
Flaviana: No, no, no. Only the Zikril can enter.

  • Troubled Backstory Flashback: Isauro and Evaristo's severed friendship is detailed in a flashback that goes back 50 years. One afternoon, Evaristo goes to Isauro's Sunday class and tries to persuade him into hanging out at the beach with him. Eventually, it works and upon reaching the shore, they fall in love with Maria. As the days go by, however, the Love Triangle turns deadly and Evaristo almost murders his friend for it. It is at that moment that the boys' companionship is irreparably mutilated.