The template for feel-good Hollywood movie success begins with a protagonist in unfortunate circumstances. Limitations such as scarce finances, an unsupportive family or a misunderstanding society deny the main character the opportunity for upward mobility. The formula is then driven by our hero’s struggles to overcome the persecution and oppressive forces that threaten his desire for self-improvement.
In a traditional Hollywood feel-good movie, this rise from society’s cellar usually results in exorbitant success, such as a professional singing contract, bountiful wealth or being carried off the field at the end of a Notre Dame football game.
But “La Yuma,” which opened last week in Costa Rican theaters, is not a Hollywood film; it is a Nicaraguan one. A feel-good tale in Nicaragua doesn’t result in a mansion in Malibu or a Nobel Peace Prize. Unrealistic Hollywood expectations are replaced by a subtler success story, one that emerges from an impoverished pocket of Managua.
Nicaraguan actress Alma Blanco gives a stirring performance as Yuma, a young woman who shares a bed with her two younger siblings, has a strained relationship with her mother, and detests her mother’s unemployed boyfriend, who spends most of his time passed out in a hammock. As an outlet for her familial angst and mundane job at a small clothing store, Yuma spends most of her free time training at a boxing gym.
While drugs, theft and indolence are the prominent pastimes in her decrepit neighborhood, boxing gives Yuma hope for something better. Parallel to her increasing dedication to the ring, Yuma meets a wealthy college student, Ernesto, from the other side of the city. Their relationship, which is played out in colorful, comical dialogue that reveals their contrasting upbringings, gives Yuma further motivation to remove herself from her hopeless barrio.
As residents of the barrio realize Yuma’s growing detachment, they try to pull her back in, interfering in her relationship with Ernesto and reminding her of all the things she cannot do.
The heart of the film is found in Yuma’s escape in the midst of the chaotic mess of events that surrounds her exodus. True to her boxer’s spirit, Yuma’s ferocity and scrappy demeanor wills its way through the fight, and – though there is no fame, no screaming crowds of thousands, no piles of money or house on the beach – the result, while surprising in its abrupt severance from Yuma’s past, does indeed leave you feeling good.
“La Yuma,” which is in Spanish, is the first feature-length film out of Nicaragua in two decades. Directed by French-born Florence Jaugey, who has lived in Nicaragua for more than 20 years, the movie has received acclaim at film festival screenings around the world.