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Making Malinche: A Documentary by Nacho Cano 2021 Movie Review Poster Trailer Online
A lot goes into making a (good) musical; there are the songs, the story, the characters. There’s gotta be a great cast and a great director at the center of it all, or things may very well fall apart. We’ve seen the stage production process on screen before with documentaries like Every Little Step, HBO’s Revolution Rent, and PBS’s Hamilton’s America, and Making Malinche, now streaming on Netflix, looks to capture the same.
“It’s like a seed that they plant into our minds from the time we’re kids, that they conquered us, we lost, they betrayed us, everything is this woman’s fault,” actress Melissa Barrera tells us. She’s referring to the story of Malinche, the namesake of Nacho Cano’s musical that portrays the imagined love story of Malinche, a Nahua slave often referred to as having betrayed her people to help the Spanish conquer the Aztec empire, and the conquistador Hernán Cortés.
Cano relocates to Miami while working on Malinche and composes at dawn, pouring his heart and soul into the project. He hopes to correct the historical misrepresentation of Malinche and our perception of the Spanish and the Aztecs, though the danger of this kind of romanticized nostalgia seems to go over his head. With the help of historians, musicians, artists, actors, and more, we get a full picture of this version of the story, as well as the work Cano and all his collaborators put into bringing Malinche to life.
Making Malinche is a bit of a slog. While it may only clock in at around 90 minutes, the film spends so much time painting a pretty picture of the musical’s creator, Nacho Cano, that the heart of the story winds up suffering. To the film’s credit, I did leave wishing I could see the stage production of Malinche, perhaps largely because the glimpses we get of it in the documentary feel so overly produced that I couldn’t help but wonder what it looks like in its intended form. (I also wonder if Malinche is another case of romanticizing some very ugly things from the past for art’s sake, which isn’t all that surprising). The story of Malinche is certainly an interesting one, and Making Malinche finds a good groove when it allows the historical experts their chance in the spotlight to explain the significance of these figures. On the flip side, things start to drag when Making Malinche gets self-indulgent; there are so many cringeworthy shots of Cano at the piano or ripping on a guitar or whatever that I found myself having to turn away. This kind of artist portrait is so tired out, and what makes the documentary interesting whatsoever is the collaborate nature of it all. That’s where it sings.
Much of Making Malinche feels like a ’90s music video, with its use of hokey transitions, slow motion, and strange angles. Maybe in the hands of a more capable director, the documentary would have hit a more solid stride, but it feels disjointed and confused, almost forgetting itself when it decides to fall down certain rabbit holes. Perhaps if it had been released 20 years ago or so, Making Malinche would be a fine example of the behind-the-scenes musical documentary, but in 2021, it doesn’t really make the cut. It feels a lot more like “look how great this guy is!” than it does “here’s what went into making our musical!”. Malinche may be an incredible musical, but based on this documentary alone, you might not get that impression.