Every year I pick a free screening to attend at Cine Las Americas International Film Festival in Austin. This year’s hidden gem was a heartfelt chuckle, written and directed by Lorena Padilla. As her directing debut, Martínez is a film about a stubborn Chilean man who has lived in Mexico most of his life and doesn’t want to retire. When a neighbor suddenly dies, her bucket list and discarded belongings allow him to flirt with the beauty of life after years of mundane routine.
The film made its premiere at the Miami International Film Festival this spring and was also a feature at the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival (LALIFF). Making its way around the film fest circuit, Martínez made me ponder how our objects hold our stories and answered questions I had never asked myself – how will my belongings tell my story? Could they inspire someone to finally decide to live and tell their own?
Same Pantuflas, Different Day
The familiar sound of fútbol fills an empty apartment. All the nicknacks and little details that make a life are meticulously displayed as characters within the film’s opening scene. A morning routine of grunting, pantuflas, and push-ups introduces us to Martínez (played by Francisco Reyes) – a grumpy boomer who lives a quiet life where work is all he’s ever known.
Even the HR manager says he reminds her of her own father – alguien que vive a trabajar. I couldn’t help but agree. A lot of my first-gen blueprint comes from my own father’s boomer loyalty and it’s been a challenge to undo that way of thinking these past few years. Martínez captures a lot of what I see from a generation of Latino men who live to serve and forget to enjoy a free lollipop on the bus ride home. Even the guilt of receiving a gift is hard for them to accept, especially when it’s from a neighbor Martínez has only one small interaction with.
Turns out the smell of old pipes was actually the noisy neighbor below who had been dead for six months. A life’s worth of stuff suddenly becomes a pile of trash outside the apartment building and Martínez decides to save it from the rain. From crochet Santa toilet paper decor to old magazines that have disgusting dinner recipes for one, Martínez slowly starts to absorb his late neighbor’s life. His apartment gets a makeover and the details that were once memories to collect fuel his curiosity to slowly come back to life.
Lorena Padilla’s Cinematic Eye
Greenish tones fill nearly every frame, giving the nostalgic feel of a summer at the pool with a Fuji film lens. Lorena Padilla’s symmetric vision helps tell the story of routine and her script finds the pockets of humor hidden within the mundane. I like to think I caught on to a signature director’s move of hers where she slowly pans an invisible line between two characters – the space between allowing the transition of emotion to slowly unfold within their perspective. Padilla’s comedy also hit home for me and the punch lines were executed so naturally by the supporting cast.
In an interview with Variety, Padilla explains her inspiration for Martínez was in fact her own father and how she wanted to explore the relationship with her dad. Her wide angles continue to show us how isolated Martínez was. In a world filled with movement, he sticks to his own rhythm. As we follow our introverted character, proximity gets tighter. By the end of the film, our main character becomes the center of one of Padilla’s beautiful wides as the credits roll around Martínez, finally appreciating his new life – I blew a chef’s kiss.
An Imprint of Our Lives
One of my favorite supporting characters is Pablo (played by Humberto Busto), a millennial employee hired to replace Martínez at work. Pablo’s office chatter subconsciously helps Martínez open up and he shares that he loves to swim but his father never took him to the beach. This film captures the essence of millennial-boomer contrast in an office setting. We all walk around so lonely and forget that connection is what makes us human.
Reminiscing on his favorite keepsakes from his late neighbor, Martínez gets caught reliving the days of her old planner as he starts to break through his familiar routine. He’s humming at work now, there’s a pep in his step. Office gossip makes everyone think he’s in love. When he finally reveals how he met his late neighbor, suddenly Martínez is seen as a romantic. We are reminded how one moment of kindness can inspire someone to live. Turns out Martínez inspired her first, sparking curiosity about Jupiter’s moons and a life bucket list.
The film shows us how we are always connected in beautiful ways. It made me think of my old journals and bucket lists. Some of the souvenirs I keep around that spark joy might be an inspiration for others in a way I didn’t know. I came home after the screening and looked around at my things, wondering what memories could help heal others. What story will they tell?
Martínez taught me that it’s the simple things that help wake us up from the mundane – and why I have a hard time throwing away old planners. I’m a fan of Padilla’s work now, and I can’t wait to see what comes next.