Tótem by the Mexican director Lila Avilés is her second film after her highly acclaimed The Chambermaid (La Camarista) in 2018. This time, the setting is a large house where, over the course of a long day, family and friends meet for a dual ritual: it is the birthday of 7 year old Sol ‘s young father Tona, but as it will likely be his last, it is also a farewell ceremony.
Like the character of the bonsai-loving patriarch, Avilés takes meticulous care in shaping her own miniature, bending trajectories and feelings, pruning all frills and excess. Tótem amasses signs and forms of life: animals, insects, plants and a parade of wonderful human beings who are stronger together.
“Lila Avilés creates a richly textured, deeply compassionate portrait of a family that’s falling apart as one of its youngest members comes into consciousness…
“Tótem” is only Avilés’s second feature…but it’s also one of the finest movies you’ll see this year.”
Manohla Dargis, The New York Times
“…exquisite, emotionally overwhelming drama”
Justin Chang, The Los Angeles Times
“A dazzling, vibrant child's-eye view of jubilation and tragedy.”
Jessica Kiang, Sight & Sound