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  • Ralph Villanueva

Ralph Villanueva Reviews Manolo Caro's Film, Fiesta en la Madriguera / Down the Rabbit Hole

Netflix Poster for Manolo Caro's film Down the Rabbit Hole with boy wearing sombrero in bathtub
Netflix Poster for Manolo Caro's film adaptation of Villalobos's Down the Rabbit Hole

Image shows young man sitting in front of a landscape mural photograph
Poster for Film Adaptation of Villalobos's No voy a pedirle a nadie que me crea

If you haven’t heard of Juan Pablo Villalobos, look him up. If you haven’t watched Netflix’s two adaptations of his novels, I Don’t Expect Anyone to Believe Me / No voy a pedirle a nadie que me crea and Down the Rabbit Hole / Fiesta en la Madriguera clear time to see them. What follows is my very brief take on the latter film (recently released) that was directed by Manolo Caro (The House of Flowers).

Fiesta en la Madriguera's story, broken down into 4 capítulos y un epílogo, is about boy (desperately wanting a Namibian hippo) and his father (desperately trying to satisfy all his son’s wishes) living in a lavish casa where life and reality aren’t what they appear to be, but which nonetheless impart valuable lessons for the boy as he goes about his days donning different hats/personas and filling his stomach with quesadillas.

Young boy tries on his new hat, a crown
Tochtli tries on his new hat, a replica of Louis XVI's crown

Other than a brief foray into the wilderness, much of the film takes place within this casa which includes memorable scenes and exchanges with other characters. The film has plenty of topics that could be parsed out and discussed on their own, I’ll only mention a few: the socio-political interactions between father and Governor/State, the presence and type of food consumed, la música in the background by Ramón Ayala, Chalino Sánchez, and others, the kinds of animals kept within domestic spaces, the ‘soy macho, not marica’ debate, not to mention the question of weapons and their supposed ‘democratic’ ends.


I, however, want to focus on the relationships between Yolcaut-Father (Manuel García-Rulfo), Tochtli-Son of Yolcaut (Miguel Valverde), and Mazatzin-Writer-Teacher of Tochtli (Raúl Briones) since the story is very much about a boy trying to grapple with his world, and thankfully, not centered around Yolcaut’s hazardous occupation.

Boy with crown sits with his father wearing cowboy hat as he counts money
Tochtli sits with his father Yolcaut as he counts money

We’ve had plenty of these kinds of stories (there is someone who gets beaten up and some pistola action later in the film, so no te agüites), with more in tow I am sure, but what is especially intriguing here is the focus on Tochtli, his point of view and use of imagination, of how to respond to these two authority figures, along with his shifting understanding of the importance of language, writing, and especially, truth. The manner in which these are expressed and represented as the dramedy unfolds influences Tochtli and our responses to him, leaving us to imagine his possible futures.

What is especially intriguing here is the focus on Tochtli, his point of view and use of imagination, of how to respond to these two authority figures, along with his shifting understanding of the importance of language, writing, and especially, truth.

Boy looks at all of his hats attached to a wall
Tochtli looks at all of his hats

There is a tug of war for Tochtli between the Yolcaut and Mazatzin; the father and the teacher, each of whom use language in specific ways to present their version of ‘reality’ for a boy who spends his time reading, studying, and wearing assorted hats. On any given day the hat determines Tochtli. Yolcaut has hired Mazatzin (after a thorough background check of course) to homeschool Tochtli. We learn that this casa or fortress is unique, cutoff and impenetrable to outsiders. Yolcaut and Mazatzin both know how intelligent and imaginative Tochtli is, his ability to remember what he has learned and at times even expand on it. There is nevertheless a tension between both men. They don’t quite fully trust one another, especially when it comes to the development of the boy. Yolcaut wants Tochtli to be self-sufficient, strong, and loyal; to be suspicious of what Mazatzin says along with what this failed writer turned instructor is teaching.

Boy wearing French 3 pointed hat learns from tutor
Tochtli learns from tutor, Mazatzin

There is an oft-repeated phrase throughout the film, ‘Yolcaut siempre puede,’ that serves as a filial reminder to Tochtli to have ‘absolute’ trust, that is to listen and not doubt that his father has the ability to accomplish the impossible no matter what reality has to say to the contrary. Mazatzin, on the other hand, tells Tochtli not to always believe what his father says. He emphasizes to the young scholar, ‘Si conoces tu lengua, tu puedes defenderte frente al mundo,’ since Tochtli doesn’t appear to care all that much for his grammar exercises. Words are important, and understanding how to use them verbally and on the page to construct the world, to believe in them, and trust that they will reflect the world and ourselves, make up the majority of lessons that Mazatzin provides for Tochtli.


Yet, even as both men disagree on the weight granted to words and its usage, two things they cannot escape, which further drops us down in this rabbit hole onto the dirt of ethics, are these:

Firstly, Yolcaut and Mazatzin are complicit in the ways they construct Tochtli’s world. Yolcaut’s hazardous occupation allows for Tochtli to freely play, though alone, in his palace and for Mazatzin to teach him, receiving ample payment not only for his reading and grammatical lessons, but his silence. Both men are after the same thing, but as is evident in one scene while everyone is eating, Yolcaut is a ‘fuller truth,’ having status, success, and as he says to Yochtli smiling, ‘Mazatzin sabe de libros, pero nada de la vida.’ Mazatzin has to swallow his food and his retort. Yolcaut makes things happen, his words become a reality, and his knowledge is backed by lived, hard, brutal experience. Mazatzin depends on Yolcaut for work and money. He could not become the writer he aspired to be, and his knowledge comes out of words written by others; not a reality of his own fashioning. So how can Tochtli ‘truly’ follow this maestro, this ‘lesser truth’ of an hombre?

Secondly, and this is where I believe the strengths of Villalobos as storyteller are evident, of why this adaptation is a welcome wonder to these kinds of Latinx stories, of why we end on the dirt of ethics, and why there are several questions which remain to be pondered as the film ends: who is ultimately responsible for Tochtli? Father? Teacher? The other adults Tochtli was around, or the surrounding community? Is it Tochtli alone who is responsible for himself as he ventures out into the world, or is it society? Yolcaut and Mazatzin remain exemplars of ‘a truth’ for the young boy, however, there are limitations to ‘a/the’ truth(s) they expound, along with that ‘truth’ which these men act or don’t act upon. Is there any complicity when one knows and doesn’t act? Who can Tochtli trust, given his examples?

As Tochtli continues onward, what hat, if any will he don, and which truth will he eventually speak?

Father on knees advises son
Father Yolcault Gives Parting Advice to Tochtli


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