At a brisk 59 minutes, “Food Roots” embodies, for better and worse, the frantic and voracious hunger (pun intended) Dec himself felt once he set foot in the Philippines. He goes from island to island, often meeting a family member and learning to cook a new food item. But the film is sometimes rushed, especially when it addresses tangential points that could have used more development. For example, in one interview, Dec’s chef partner Mike Morales shares how Filipino food, which “never had the light of day because it was always made very humble,” is now becoming more mainstream. It raises interesting questions about how one can maintain Filipino food’s authenticity and “hominess” now that it’s been co-opted by fine dining. However, the film never quite goes there.
Yet, like the best potlucks, “Food Roots” ultimately distills its various elements into a unifying theme, best captured by one of Dec’s late lolas: “You don’t know where you’re going unless you know where you’re from.”
Watching “The Echo,” I had to remind myself that Tatiana Huezo’s latest was a documentary. Abstaining from incorporating voiceovers, narration, or interviews with its subjects, the film follows three families who live in El Eco, a rural Mexican village in Chignahuapan, Puebla. Here, the harsh and ever-changing seasons dictate the rhythms of community life as the families weather rain, wind, and everything in between across the endlessly lush landscape. While the men go far out of El Eco to work, the children help their mothers with various domestic tasks, often caring for livestock and their elderly with equal tenderness. Looking after their grandmas and goats means the children are forced to become adults quickly. One girl, Montse, helps bathe her grandmother and is told by her mother, “She’s your responsibility now.” Death is ingrained in the ambiance of the village and is accepted by everyone as tragic yet unavoidable.
Cinematographer Ernesto Pardo’s camerawork is deft and tender as he focuses on these family’s rhythms (the opening shot is a long take of tween Luz Ma and her brother Toño saving a sheep that’s gotten stuck in a muddy pond), and never feels invasive. As his lens documents the quotidian, he finds distinct narratives amongst each family.
Montse’s story is particularly gripping. She loves and cares for her aging grandma dearly, yet dreams of a life outside El Eco. Pardo’s work, alongside Lucrecia Gutiérrez’s editing, captures this visually, showing Montse standing in the middle of an expansive field while her horse walks in circles around her (despite her steed being free to roam about). In showcasing the still life of El Eco and how seamlessly the adults’ and children’s work intersect, “The Echo” reaffirms that our lives often echo those who come before us and that the histories we inherit are filled with beauty and hardship alike.