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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    “Molky delivers laughs, Rita drops jaws”

    On Monday night the Screening Room hosted an encore showing of Rita of the Sky, a thought-provoking, culture-bending documentary that experienced its world premiere on Sunday.

    [Spoilers]

    Preceding Rita was a crowd-pleasing short by Gonzalo Ballester entitled The Molky Way. The film follows Mrs. Molky, a 73-year-old Iranian widow who embarks on a spontaneous trip to Isfahán where some long-lost relatives reside. The feeble but tenaciously independent Molky makes several stops along the way, visiting family and enjoying the unfamiliar diversions of city life on her self-ordained pilgrimage. Molky’s expedition provides some surprising and intimate looks into Muslim culture, shot in actual Iranian homes and cities that range from stark earthen structures to savvy Westernized flats (at one point Molky is given the option of using either “”the bathroom”” or “”the Westernized bathroom”” in a humorous scene that details the clash of indigenous and foreign cultures). The short inspired consistent arrays of laughter across the packed Screening Room hall, mostly at the expense of Molky’s adorable old lady vibe, but also provided a rare, enlightening glimpse into the daily lives of an oft-ignored culture that shares more similarities with the West than most would think.

    Rita of the Sky also challenged cultural perceptions, but in a far more startling, concerning manner. Kathryn Ferguson’s invasive film tells the tale–some might say the legend–of Rita Carillo Quintero Mancinas, an astonishing enigma of a woman who walked 1500 miles from her Mexican home to a small Kansas town. Upon her arrival, Rita was taken into custody after being discovered rooting through a local’s refrigerator, and was soon after remanded to a mental institution when no one could decipher the curious, guttural language she spoke. When probed about her home, Rita offhandedly responded with one word in broken Spanish every time: “”Arriba””, up.

    Ten years of incarceration later, it is finally discovered that Rita is a Tarahumara Indian from Mexico, and that she had merely been speaking her native language the entire time. “”Oops”” doesn’t quite reflect the magnitude of such an epic cultural blunder.

    The circumstances and consequences of Rita’s voyage are told through three mediums: interview footage with Rita’s family and friends from Copper Canyon, along with the Kansas law enforcers and lawyers involved in her case and the Mexicans involved in her ultimate repatriation; excerpts from the production “”La Mujer Que Cayo del Cielo””, a theatrical retelling of Rita’s astounding experience by Tucson’s own Borderland Theater; and a cinematic reenactment of Rita’s 1500 mile trek told through subjective shots of uncompromising desert, lush green mountains and rushing rivers between Chihuahua, Mexico and Kansas. This synthesis of footage provides a telling of Rita’s story that is at once factual and dramatized, honest and sensational.

    When footage of the actual Rita is showed in the film’s final act, the wandering woman of legend is reduced to a shuddering husk, incapable of speaking even her native language after being taken off of the hospital’s medication. It is truly a tragic image, but when the shocking truth of why Rita made her long walk to Kansas is revealed, all conceptions of the woman are hastily challenged. Interviews with Rita’s Tarahumaran friends and family explain that the woman left home only after consuming a drink spiked with a psychotropic herb (some speculate Peyote, but none are positive). She thus murdered her husband with an axe in a drug-induced stupor, and her mind never fully recovered.

    If Ferguson’s intent was to portray Rita as a tragic victim of culture shock, then she certainly succeeded. The law enforcers and lawyers involved in Rita’s incarceration respond with aloofness and complacency to the disturbing facts of the woman’s case, and the director herself added at the end of the screening that, though Rita is still alive and under the care of her family in Mexico, “”She is not well taken care of.”” Overall, the case of Rita is morally, legally, and culturally profound–truly the stuff of legend.

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