An Open Letter to the Three Amigos (i.e., Alfonso Cuaron, Alejando Gonzalez Inarritu, Guillermo del Toro): Last night at Cinevegas I finally saw a film that popped through — an emotionally probing, sexy-jazzy French nouvelle vague recipe called Once Upon a Time Maria (Eros Una Ves Maria), by a 31 year-old Mexican filmmaker named Jesus Magana Vasquez (although his business card just says “Jesus Magana”).

Ana Serradilla, star of Once Upon a Time Maria

If you were to tell me “watch this very good erotic Mexican film,.” I might say, “Erotic film? Made by whom? The Mexican Zalman King?” The answer is that Magana is emphatically not Zalman King…not even close.
Once Upon a Time Maria may lack what most of us would call a “commanding narrative” (not out of inattention but a deliberate casualness on Magana’s part), it may be a little bit erratic (but only here and there), and eros, yes, is a constant flow factor, but the main current is about deep-down hurtin’ — emotional closeups, intimacy, intimate behavior, vulnerability and a constant river of pulsing, half-mad sex.
Once Upon a Time Maria is not a monumental film but a very enchanting groove, and I believed almost everything in it. It is, I feel, much more sexy, sweaty and unruly than Sex and Lucia. It never seems cheap or cloying or teasing. It’s not an Almodovar film; it plays its cards like something made in early ’60s Paris by Jacques Rivette or Francois Truffaut, or an imaginary, more randy Eric Rohmer.
Vasquez’s script is about a TV director named Tonatiuh (Julio Bracho) and his relationships with four or five or six different women called Maria. The hottest, craziest and most passionate Maria — an actress, of course — is played by an immensely enticing ball of fire named Ana Seradilla.

Jesus Magana following last night’s screening of Once Upon a Time Maria.

Tonatiuh is a hound with a tendency to drink too much, but Seradilla’s Maria has gotten through to him more than the others, and the film is largely about how this damaged, destroyed relationship has affected his life in all sorts of ways. The narrative uses a loop-dee-loop over under sideways down strategy. You can call the it “fun” or “light” or some other mildly demeaning thing, but I think it’s much better and fuller than that.
Bracho is a likable attractive actor with a deep voice, good looks and superb teeth, but the film’s emotional center belongs to 29 year-old Seradilla, or more particularly the performance that Magana gets out of her. The feelings of intimacy and vulnerability that she conveys to the camera are way exceptional. I would call what she does in this film Jeanne Moreau-like, a la Jules et Jim.
And the music by Giovanny Escalera and Hector Ruiz is fantastic. Some of it is jazzy, bluesy 4 o’clock in the morning stuff that reminded me of Gato Barbieri‘s work in Last Tango in Paris.
I swear to God, Magana has it. He looks a little bit like Paul Greengrass, only with darker hair. I loved what he said last night about where he’s at right now, which is that right now he wants “to play games and be happy with what I make, and then maybe later on I will do the other thing.” You guys should get to know him and help him make a film some day. A guy who has it has his future mapped out. Magana’s next film is going to be better and then next one even better and so on. It’s in the cards.

Jesus Magana, Cinevegas director Trevor Groth — 6.9.07, 11:05 pm

Cinevegas director Trevor Groth first saw Once Upon a Time Maria at the Guadalajara Film Festival, which wrapped a couple of months ago. Jesus’s company is called Sorbrevivientes Films.
Once Upon a Time Maria has never played before at a U.S. film festival. I think somebody should acquire it. If Sex and Lucia can make money in the States, this one can also.