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Shortlisted for the 2024 Academy Award® for Best International Feature Film

Lila Avilés’ radiant follow-up to her debut, THE CHAMBERMAID (a 2019 Film Forum premiere), TÓTEM follows 7-year-old Sol helping her aunts prepare for her father’s surprise birthday party, as the house grows increasingly boisterous and her dad’s absence from the festivities increasingly mysterious. “There isn’t a false note in the tender Mexican drama TÓTEM… With intricate staging, lapidary camerawork and an expressionistically warm palette — along with charming appearances from the natural world — the writer-director Lila Avilés creates a richly textured, deeply compassionate portrait of a family that’s falling apart as one of the youngest members comes into consciousness. TÓTEM is only Avilés’ second feature…but it’s also one of the finest movies you’ll see this year.” – Manohla Dargis, The New York Times

Presented with support from the Robert E. Appel Fund for Spanish and Portuguese Language Films



– Alison Willmore, Vulture
– Dana Stevens, Slate

"DAZZLING... Avilés’s film combines the avid curiosity of a child with the steady wisdom of an adult, and as it whirls through party prep and the bickering of family members — over a cake, over the bathroom, over Tona’s decision to forgo treatment, over a spiritualist brought in to cleanse the home — it approaches its large ensemble of characters with a tenderness that’s almost unbearable. Without ever verging on cloying, it’s a film about death that becomes a heartfelt celebration of life.”
– Alison Willmore, Vulture

“Delicate in its observation of setting and character... Avilés takes her time letting the audience get to know, and grow to care for, every odd, flawed, and flailing member of Sol’s extended clan, so that by the time the party guests finally start to arrive, you feel like the door they’re knocking on is your own.”
– Dana Stevens, Slate

“Astonishing… a riot of noise and motion…Avilés builds toward a climax that is as dazzling as it is devastating, a moment of familial connection both profound and terribly fleeting.”
– Richard Lawson, Vanity Fair

“A film of unexpected beauty, using its main character as a conduit for exploring the quandaries of a family navigating matters of love, heartbreak, class, innocence, and, perhaps most prominently, mortality. Has the tactility of a fly-on-the-wall documentary, capturing the equivalent of still lifes throughout.”
— Greg Nussen, Slant

“EXUBERANTLY LOVELY. A dazzling, vibrant child’s-eye view of jubilation and tragedy… with Avilés’ exceptional direction keeping sentimentality at bay while still, almost magically, sampling the different flavours of grief that run like currents and crosscurrents between the members of this close-knit, bickering family. Much of this comes from the singular shooting style, with Diego Tenorio’s warm, dynamic camera set deep within the hubbub, but pulling from it dozens of painterly close-ups that have the depth of portraiture. It’s an extraordinarily effective way of communicating TÓTEM’s unusual take on a family drama in which every character is in close proximity but is also a discrete world – one that will go on turning even after another stops.”
– Jessica Kiang, Sight and Sound

“A MEXICAN FAMILY PORTRAIT, BURSTING WITH BEAUTY AND DRAMA. Packs in a massive amount of drama into a small space, and the rewards are immense…Should further solidify Avilés’ reputation as an auteur with a unique vision.”
– Leslie Felperin, The Hollywood Reporter

“WONDERFUL. A SUBLIME ACHIEVEMENT. Ms. Avilés, who also wrote the screenplay, has crafted something special here: a meditation on family and mortality that spares no emotional quarter, but remains an uplifting experience all the same.”
– Mario Naves, New York Sun

“JOYFUL AND DEVASTATING. The dynamism of Ms. Avilés’s observational style — and the delicacy with which she threads moving drama through the quotidian — sidesteps sentimentality for something more bracing, and more true.”
– Zachary Barnes, Wall Street Journal

“Avilés fills [TOTÉM’s] fleeting 95 minutes with all sorts of nifty stuff. There are scorpions and drones, a scene-stealing cat, a spirited pantomime from a Donizetti opera, even a visit from a scamming psychic who Alejandra has hired to cleanse the negative spirits from the house… Graced with Diego Tenorio's luminous camerawork, Avilés moves from character to character with enormous delicacy, revealing gossamer threads of personal connection and, like a crack portraitist, catching faces at their most revealing. Like [Virginia] Woolf, she's attuned to the richness of the fleeting moment.”
– John Powers, NPR

“A warm, tumultuous ensemble picture… TÓTEM is as tender with its characters as it is grounded by them, and in 95 minutes it spins out a whole lifetime for its family without relying on exposition… The marvel of TÓTEM is that it seems so organic, though it’s clearly the result of an enormous amount of preparation and precision, the camera winding its way through crowded spaces to catch the most delicate of interactions… The best compliment that can be paid to TÓTEM is that it’s a film you genuinely don’t want to end.”
– Alison Willmore, New York Magazine

Film Forum