El jardín del Edén [The Garden of Eden] (1994)
You could take El jardín del Edén as a meditation on borders. Not just the boundaries that separate nations, but also the lines we draw between ourselves and even the barriers we create inside ourselves. Most of the film is set near the border between Mexico and the US, in and around Tijuana. This is a place where different cultures come together, sometimes merging in a happy chaos, other times grinding against each other and shooting off sparks. Labels like “Mexican”, “American”, “Indigenous” start to lose their meaning. It all depends on your perspective.
The film centers on three women who have come to Tijuana, each for different reasons. Liz is a Mexican-American woman working on an exhibition about cultural identity. Her friend Jane is Anglo and speaks almost no Spanish, which doesn’t stop her from trying to be friends with everyone she meets. Serena is a single mom who is struggling to make a living and trying to deal with her teenage son. The script, by director María Novaro with Beatriz Novaro, doesn’t try to fit these women into a standard dramatic framework. The film isn’t about drama. It’s about people trying to find a way to live their lives.
Novaro seems to be as interested in the place as the people. She takes the time to dwell on details that give us a feel for the city. The cinematography captures the tacky beauty of the border, the dusty landscapes and cheap hotels. English and Spanish collide and mutate in garish neon and hand-painted signs. While the movie doesn’t have a traditional score, we hear music all over the place, in dance halls, border camps, and on the street.
References to Eden and paradise come up throughout the film. Is paradise across the border? Is it right here inTijuana? Or does it exist on some other plane? Novaro doesn’t answer these questions. Instead she follows these people who want to find that perfect place, but don’t know how to get there.