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still from film La Baláhna La Baláhna will be part of the short film program at Sundance. It premieres at the festival and online on January 20. Imcine.gob.mx

Film about Oaxaca virginity ritual accepted by Sundance Film Festival

Film explores effects of Isthmus of Tehuantepec wedding night tradition on couples

A short film that explores the tradition of wedding night virginity testing in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec region of Oaxaca will be shown at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.

Called La Baláhna, or Maidenhood in English, the 15-minute Spanish and Zapotec language film was written and directed by Xóchitl Enríquez Mendoza, a 30-year-old Isthmus of Tehuantepec native.

According to the Sundance synopsis, the film’s main character, Catalina, “submits to the tradition of her people to demonstrate her purity and worth as a woman to her beloved, but her body betrays her and she fails to demonstrate her chastity.”

In an interview with the newspaper El Universal, Enríquez said she was excited and happy that her film was chosen to represent Mexico at the Sundance Film Festival, which will take place in Utah next January. It will compete in the international short film category.

The short, Enríquez’s fifth, was filmed last year in the Isthmus municipalities of Santo Domingo Tehuantepec and El Barrio de La Soledad.

director Xóchitl Enríquez Mendoza
La Baláhna’s writer and director Xóchitl Enríquez Mendoza is an Isthmus of Tehuantepec native and made the film there. Sundance Film festival

The filmmaker said that La Baláhna — the film takes its name from the Zapotec term for the virginity ritual — is inspired by an experience a female member of her family had 30 years ago. Like Catalina, Enríquez’s relative didn’t bleed on her wedding night and was unable to prove her virginity.

Failing to prove their chastity — even though they were apparently virgins — was a shameful experience for both the film character and the real-life woman. If a woman “passes” the virginity test, the friends of an Isthmus region couple typically wear a red tulip on their clothes the day after the wedding.

Enríquez said that her aim was not to criticize the virginity ritual, which continues to take place in some communities, but to generate a discussion about it.

“It’s a delicate issue, and that was always my concern. I’m not here to attack a custom, I want to question it, start a discussion and reflect about the effects it can have,” she said.

“In this short film … [Catalina] didn’t bleed because she has an elastic hymen. By not bleeding, the character’s love [for her husband] is placed in doubt. Despite that, [Catalina’s husband] Donato stays with her, but the atmosphere of tragedy grows. The relationship is destroyed from the wedding night because she didn’t bleed,” Enríquez said.

The actors and everyone else who worked on the film are locals of the Isthmus region, she said. The film will premiere on January 20 and will be available for streaming on the Sundance Film Festival website until January 31.

With reports from El Universal 

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