Sparse Yet Striking, Dos Estaciones Portrays the Minutiae of Labor-Based StrifeMovies Reviews Sundance 2022
This review originally ran as part of Paste’s 2022 Sundance coverage.
The lush, rolling hills of Western Mexico set the scene in Juan Pablo González’s Dos Estaciones, the director’s first foray into narrative filmmaking. More specifically, the rows of agave plants that speckle these highlands are what bring the film into sharp focus, as the succulent plant’s most prized byproduct—tequila, named after the town in Jalisco it was first distilled in—is the lifeblood of the film’s namesake, a tequila factory named Dos Estaciones. González takes his sweet time bringing characters and their motivations to the forefront, relishing in the details of the laborious process inherent to producing the coveted spirit coupled with the surrounding natural beauty of his home state. Having grown up in Atotonilco El Alto, Jalisco, across the street from a tequila factory owned by his grandfather, González imbues the film with intimate touches gleaned by a native to the state and its most lucrative industry—blending his sparse yet stirring narrative with the observational eye typical of his previous documentary work.
The director’s personal history is also evident in the setting of the titular tequila factory, which is actually owned by González’s extended family. However, for the purposes of Dos Estaciones, the factory’s owner is María García (a superb, shattering performance by Teresa Sánchez). She oversees everyone—from the fieldhands to the women who hand-affix stickers on each bottle—with a brusque directness, yet is clearly respected and admired by her workers despite her inability to promise paychecks on time. Gruff demeanor and dwindling finances notwithstanding, María is a beloved pillar of her community: she loans out her own equipment to workers, regularly supports other local businesses, and even attends the birthday parties of her employee’s kids. It’s at one such function that she meets Rafaela (Rafaela Fuentes), a young woman who’s new in town and in search of a new job. Ironically, she was recently laid off from her managerial position at a tequila factory (a profession Fuentes actually occupies), and María is immediately charmed. She hires Rafaela right away, hoping that she might quell her administrative woes so that she can concentrate on other setbacks—such as a plague decimating the agave crop and U.S. tequila ventures siphoning off precious resources and threatening to put her out of business.
While it could have easily leaned into the methodology of artisan tequila production, Dos Estaciones is most concerned with the intricate details of labor essential to the process, from cultivation to consumption. We are first introduced to fieldhands extracting the piña at the plant’s core, then follow María as she walks into the factory to supervise the bottling process. The rest of the film intersperses other vital steps in tequila distillation: baking the piña, shredding the still-steaming fruit into a pulp and extracting its juices, lengthy aging in oak barrels, and finally taste-testing the product. The presence of workers—their gloved hands handling the agave on a conveyor belt in one particularly riveting segment—is never absent. This might be María’s story, but the weight of what her employees contribute is never overlooked or negated. Even in the broader ecosystem of the town the factory is located within, the work that generates income and community is consistently highlighted. Most prominently featured is Tantín (Tantín Vera), a hairstylist regularly tasked with keeping María’s signature masculine cut looking cool, who the audience at times follows into her own daily business ventures. Even ancillary characters are granted detailed glimpses into their livelihoods. When Tantín visits the butcher, DP Gerardo Guerra pans his camera to catch the action of slabs of meat being hung on hooks. At that same child’s birthday party, the viewer lingers behind the head of a waiter tasked with taking the celebrating family’s photo. The film’s commitment to realism means that no effort which sustains the community goes unnoticed, a docu-hybrid touch that flouts the oppressively singular focus of most narrative films. However, emphasizing these labor dynamics also aids in adding complexity to María’s character—she has the relative luxury of being a taskmaster who orders employees about, but also carries the crushing burden of a family business whose lineage is likely to end with her. Yet she doesn’t even have the luxury of the relationships seemingly fundamental to a family-owned enterprise, as she lives a largely isolated life without any relatives to support her economically or emotionally. Perhaps this is why she subtly latches onto the affections of Rafaela, who seems to revitalize her factory, its workers, and even Marías own heart.
Though there’s never an overt disclosure concerning María’s sexuality, her butch style and macho-adjacent demeanor—suspended only in the presence of Rafaela—communicates a conspicuous yet subtle queerness. Similar is the case with Tantín, a transgender woman whose identity is never plainly referenced, even during a beautifully shot sex scene with a tender lover. The frameworks of both of their identities also never place them at positions of disadvantage or danger in their communities, clearly valued for the services they provide and support they give to other businesses in turn. There’s almost a radical casualness to the existence of LGBT characters in Dos Estaciones, a decision surely influenced by the director’s frustration that the rural landscape of his hometown is often mischaracterized as intolerant and ignorant. Yet in casting several non-actors and allowing them to imbue their roles with their own lived experiences—as well as the added insight added by Ana Isabel Fernández and Ilana Coleman, who co-wrote the script alongside González—there is an effort to produce something truer to the feminine, queer Mexican experience than what is usually presented via depictions of rampant violence and trauma.
All in all, Dos Estaciones is Mexican slow cinema that defies conceptions often projected onto the country by Americans, while simultaneously criticizing the role the U.S. has played in destabilizing a vital industry in its financial and cultural infrastructure. Whether a tequila factory is owned by American corporations or a local independent business, those responsible for the laborious process of actually making tequila will likely always be Mexicans. What was once a mode of production that sustained a community is now having its resources depleted, with all gains flowing into one corporation’s pocket instead of the land which cultivated it—certainly something to keep in mind before buying Kendall Jenner’s recently launched tequila brand.
Director: Juan Pablo González
Writers: Juan Pablo González, Ana Isabel Fernández, Ilana Coleman
Stars: Teresa Sánchez, Rafaela Fuentes, Tatín Vera, Manuel García-Rulfo
Release Date: January 24, 2022 (Sundance)
Natalia Keogan is a freelance film writer based in Queens, New York. Her work has been featured in Paste, Blood Knife and Filmmaker magazines, among others. Find her on Twitter.