Sundance 2020: ‘Summer White’ Breaks Down Toxic Latinx Habits – Review
“Mamitis” is not a term one hears every day. Those with Latin roots are more than likely familiar with the saying. The slang is meant to be taken as a negative connotation for a mother’s boy. Summer White (Blanco de Verano) explores the idea of “mamitis” but takes it to personified toxic levels. Director and writer Rodrigo Ruiz Patterson cements himself as a notable voice to look out for within Mexican cinema with this feature-length debut. Coming from a place of home, Summer White is full of cunning imagery and themes that cross the borders of a safe space. The film has one clear goal – break down toxic parental values and traits for the sake of Latinx youth.
Sometimes such sensitive topics require an abrasive approach to get the message through. Many know that there can be no thicker surface to penetrate than a parent’s mind. The “talking to a wall” mentality younger generations face when presenting challenging ideas to elders comes with an incomparable struggle. Summer White breaks that wall full force with a gut-punch of a narrative. Though younger audiences are more likely to seek out the film due to its focus, the film’s bearings are best benefited when closing the generational gap between Latinx audiences.
The film follows the exploits of Rodrigo (Adrián Rossi), an introverted 13-year-old boy living on the outskirts of Mexico City. The closest family he has is his mother, Valeria (Sophie Alexander-Katz). Their bond is questionably too close; they shower together, sleep together, and smoke together. The duo reflects the commonalities of low-class Mexico, subdued to the stress and the struggles of single parenthood. Life takes a turn when Valeria starts to date Fernando (Fabián Corres), an honest businessman. Rodrigo, scarred by his biological father, must defend his sacred home and mother from the clutches of an invader.
Even though instantly relatable to many young men, the film diverts many expectations. Fernando, by all means, is a decent man with the best intentions for Valeria and her child. To great surprise, the film does not function on the need for a twist. The conflict all comes from Rodrigo and the dangerous implications born from insensitive parenting; insensitivity unfortunately common in Latin America. Disregard for mental health, toxic masculinity, and the overburden of responsibility are the building blocks of Rodrigo’s upbringing. His pride and vigor are taken on an emotional rollercoaster, one that he had no choice but to board and is at the complete mercy of. The ride stops at the most realistic point, a dangerous child who tests the world on just how much innocence his age grants him.
Rossi drives the film with a powerful anti-hero like performance as Rodrigo. The young actor seems unfazed at the pressure of carrying the entire weight of the film on his shoulders. Rossi sells the most natural progression of a troubled child in a downward spiral. His face stamps memorable expressions of fear, frustration, and melancholy on one’s mind. The young star is talented to a mad degree and has a promising future ahead of him. Alexander and Corres present honest and affable representations of a single mother and boyfriend. They mean the best for Rodrigo, but their own traditional upbringings have conditioned them not to empathize with the young boy’s modern struggles. One of the many all too realistic traits found in Latin households today.
One hero who should not go criminally unsung is cinematographer Sarasvati Herrera. With plenty of experience in independent Mexican cinema, This is Not Berlin being one notable credit, her talents bring range and balance to the visual scale of this tightly focused narrative. Complete with a specific color palette and layered thematic framing- her work is beautiful. There are more than a handful of shots that lose one’s attention in awe. Her work fully captivates the characters’ depth and its hook on the audience, making them feel closer and often pushing the viewer’s comfort zones.
Summer White is not necessarily a film that one can just watch so casually and often. Its daunting themes and visuals lead to a challenging watch. In the best way possible, this is a film with a longer ingestion period. It hits home and slams the door on its way inside. A powerhouse of a feature debut that will grow stronger over time. Its title comes from a specific shade of white and pastel paint used in Rodrigo’s room. Pastel being more associated with youthfulness and white with purity. However, paint is not perfect as it often cracks to reveal ugly truths stained on a wall. The film asks to confront those cracks with love and honesty. A crucial lesson to Latin America.