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The Other Tom
Compartimento Cinematográfico

Dec, 4, 2022

by Jeffrey Sipe

The Other Tom
Spanish and English with subtitles in both
Wednesday, December 7, 7:30pm
Thursday, December 8, 5pm

The Other Tom, directed by Rodrigo Pla and Laura Santullo and based on the book by Santullo, goes over fairly well-trodden ground. It tells the tale of a single mother whose young son, Tom (played expertly by the very young Israel Rodriguez), is struggling with ADHD. She understandably wants to mainstream her son at school but in order to do so she is forced to acquiesce to the school's policy of medicating him. Without the medication, the school maintains, his behavior in the classroom is unacceptable.

Although it is easy to sympathize with the mother who hopes beyond hope that her child can overcome his mental/emotional disorder without medication, she is also an off-putting character who, it seems, is often the primary impediment to her son's improvement. She wavers from a loving and caring mother to a heedless and thoughtless so-called "caregiver" who, more often than not, appears far more concerned with herself than with her child's emotional well-being. She is poor and she is frustrated, and while those may be the underlying impetuses for her aggression, they offer no justification for it.

The audience inevitably wavers between sympathy or, at least, empathy, and anger and disdain when it comes to the mother brought to life through a wonderful performance by Julia Chávez. She has made every mistake in the book, ignoring her son's deep need for his father as she brings home men to spend the night, ignorant of her son's distaste at encountering strange men in the kitchen in the early morning.

Many if not most independent Mexican films focus on the unique travails of indigenous or isolated groups of people struggling with crime, poverty, modernization and identity. And since most communities in focus are wholly unique and outside the common knowledge of even Mexican audiences, the films focusing on them are often documentaries. The Other Tom is a work of fiction and comes dangerously close to pure melodrama at various points of the film.

Melodrama is not always a death knell. In fact, as long as the film coheres aesthetically, narratively and thematically, melodrama can actually work to draw audiences deeper into the film's story. Independent film often eschews the narrative structure and character development of mainstream cinema which are precisely the elements that bring mainstream audiences to theaters. Although The Other Tom is an independent film, it mixes storytelling and character development techniques from both documentary and theatrical filmmaking. There are specific plot points that exert an impact on what is to come in the story, but these plot points come with no fanfare, no accentuation. In that respect, it is very much like real life wrapped up in a piece of fiction.

There is no real climax in The Other Tom, a phrase concocted by young Tom himself as a way of describing the differences in his personality when he is on and off his medication. There is, indeed, a clear resolution at the end but it comes with the normalcy that usually accompanies life changes. Whatever melodrama intermittently infuses the film, it ends with no trace of melodrama. It is just a step in the right direction.

*****

Compartimento Cinematográfico is at Mezcal Art
next to Immigration on Calzada de la estación.
Admission is free.


See more from
Compartimento Cinematográfico
on Lokkal's full
movie schedule

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Jeffrey R. Sipe is a writer/journalist, who, no matter how hard he writes, having grown up in Speedway, Indiana, still can’t get the sounds of race cars rounding Turn 4 out of his head. He has written about the film industry for Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, Sight and Sound, The Financial Times and other publications. He also once worked as the “boom guy” on a film that nobody saw, but he challenges everyone to see just how long they can hold a metal tube with a microphone attached over their heads.

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