‘Dos Estaciones’ is sobering look at Jalisco’s evanescent tequila industry

photo from Dos Estaciones
Sundance Institute /Courtesy

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Grade: 4.0/5.0

As the 2022 Sundance Film Festival comes to a close, hidden gems emerge from the festival’s chaos and mayhem; among the rubble is Juan Pablo González’s film “Dos Estaciones.” Far from his first time working behind the camera, “Dos Estaciones” is as somber and candid as one might expect from a film fresh out of Sundance, but this Spanish-language feature has much more to offer than the beauty and buzz that surrounds it. 

The film accounts the misfortunes that fall upon María García (Teresa Sánchez) and her struggling tequila factory. From a plague that threatens her agave farm to the intrusion of foreign companies, her localized business fights to maintain production and pay its employees. As these hardships debilitate her factory, María is introduced to Rafaela (Rafaela Fuentes), an unemployed family friend who has experience managing and attending to a small-scale tequila manufactory. As more challenges arise, María must rely on Rafaela and those around her to keep her business afloat, doing whatever it takes to keep her factory from dying out. 

While “Dos Estaciones” masterfully maintains a narrow focus on María and her inner circle, the film presents a much wider social dilemma: The effects of foreign encroachment on local businesses. Despite this ever-present issue, the film does not directly address it, instead allowing suggestive dialogue to hint at this dilemma. Such is the delicacy and beauty omnipresent in the film, and where González succeeds in driving “Dos Estaciones” carefully through precarious and fallible roads. To his credit, “Dos Estaciones” reads more like a character study than a social commentary, as the effects of a turbulent and dying industry are projected onto a single woman and the steps she must take to ensure her survival. 

González cleverly nods at these two opposing forces — the personal vs. the social — in various scenes throughout the film through juxtaposing ultra-wide and ultra-zoomed stills of various subjects. In moments where audiences are implored to take a step back, González transitions into landscape shots of harvesting or weather phenomena. At times when María is front and center, the camera hyper-focuses on Sánchez’s masterclass in expressive acting. This essential throughline ties together script and mise en scene effortlessly, a prevailing formula that carries this feature from beginning to end. 

The film’s magnificence is aided by the talent of the film’s female trio: Sánchez, Fuentes and Tatín Vera, who plays Tatis. Through exploring the dynamics of this ensemble, “Dos Estaciones” finds its footing. Complex and intricate character designs dominate and propel González’s artistic direction that materializes on screen. His boldness and honesty create characters that are diverse, unexpected and multidimensional — there exist candid expressions of queerness in the film that are both nuanced and thought-provoking. 

What compounds this triumph is the non-professionally trained talent who comprise the majority of the film. Aside from Sánchez, who has quite a rich filmography, actors such as Fuentes, Vera and others in the cast have little to no on-camera experience, which favors the grounded tone that the film evokes. “Dos Estaciones” makes audiences feel present and involved, something this plethora of fresh talent only enhances. González has tricks of his own as well, introducing many extended tracking shots that follow actors at eye level as if the audience is on location.

It’s rare that something so raw and provocative, yet almost frustratingly quiet has so much to say. Without arrogance or ego, González manages to pull off this astounding feat with grace. Though not perfect and at times detrimentally narrow, “Dos Estaciones” is undeniably moving. It urges viewers to question large institutions and the ethics of industry, then asks them to throw that all away. 

Because, at the end of the day, this is María’s story and a filmmaker’s love for Jalisco and its people. To dehumanize this narrative, as the film suggests, is a disservice to those who live in the effects of economic gentrification on a daily basis. Instead, Gonzalez handles this nuance masterfully, and captures one woman’s qualms beautifully on screen.

Contact Ryan Garay at [email protected].