By Jessica Mendez Siqueiros | Comedy
A Mexican-American vegan accidentally kills the family matriarch.

Maia is a mixed-race Latina woman who is trying to reconnect with her traditional Mexican roots. She is attending her Nana’s 100th birthday, but things go terribly wrong when it’s revealed that Maia is the most controversial of things: a vegetarian. The news is enough to shock Nana into an early death.

In the ensuing chaos, Maia struggles with feeling alienated from a family that doesn’t seem to understand her — and feels free to judge her choices openly to her face. Faced with being the permanent “gringa” outsider in the family, will she have to give up valued facets of her identity in order to be part of her family?

Writer-director Jessica Mendez Siqueiros’s warm yet astringent family dramedy has gallows humor, vibrant visual beauty and a conclusion that is equal parts heartwarming and mordant. Fitting for a film about food and family, the short is a visual feast, with bright, clear colors and a quirky compositional style that is reminiscent of Wes Anderson, with diorama-style wide shots and a formality in the framing.

Anderson’s influential style — usually capturing rarefied worlds and socioeconomical strata — is applied to a story about Chicana family life, giving a deadpan comedy to the narrative, as well as a strikingly heightened quality.

Stories about the “other” are often filmed in a “gritty” way, but seeing this dark comedy rendered with a vivid, precise formality lends the story the feel of a storybook fable, and a distance that trains a wry eye upon the values, assumptions and motivations of the character onscreen. The highly-aestheticized style also calls attention to the beautifully calibrated writing and the collective performances of the cast, which tread the line between farce and genuine emotion. Here, it emphasizes the idea of a family.

An Oscar qualifier as the best comedy short winner at Cinequest, “Pozole” takes a time-tested theme — the connection between food and family bonds — and gives it an intelligent, darkly funny spin. This isn’t sentimental tourism, but instead a warm but biting window into a family balancing heritage and modernity.

The clash can lead to unexpected skirmishes, but though the film is a highly stylized comedy, it possesses nevertheless an authenticity that’s rendered not through hand-held doc-style filmmaking, but through a strong, highly specific POV and an affectionate yet critically thoughtful honesty.

Quirky in execution yet sturdy in its deeply loving — yet no less fraught — evocation of family life, this film is colorful, complicated and complex — just like families everywhere.

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