Under the Radar: The Films of María Novaro Otesanya David March 31, 2022

Under the Radar: The Films of María Novaro

Under the Radar: The Films of María Novaro


María Novaro is a Mexican filmmaker whose work focuses on the lives of women and children with humor, insight, and gorgeous visuals. Though well-known in Mexico, where Novaro began making films in the ’80s, her work is harder to find in the U.S. It is well worth the hunt to track it down. 

Born in Mexico City in 1951, Novaro began making films in an industry largely devoid of female filmmakers. She launched her career as a sound mixer and cinematographer while making her own short films. Written with her sister, Novaro’s first feature, 1989’s “Lola,” centers on a single mother trying to make things work with her husband in L.A. In an interview with Isabel Arredondo for Women’s Studies Quarterly, Novaro said, “Motherhood is taken as being something natural that doesn’t need to be explored or that poses no questions.” Her work treats motherhood, and in “Tesoros” childhood, as interesting, and indeed vital, topics of artistic exploration. 

Her second feature, 1991’s “Danzon,” follows another mother as she leaves her life behind for a weekend in Veracruz where she searches for her dance partner. She befriends a group of sex workers and has a sort of coming back to herself, not as a mother of a daughter, but as her own woman, showing that a coming-of-age can happen at any time. 

“Danzon”: Daniel Rergis

Novaro’s most easily accessible film in the U.S. is her 2017 adventure story “Tesoros,” which can be streamed on Prime Video. It is rare to find a film that takes children, and childhood seriously, but “Tesoros” creates a world best viewed from the vantage point of the young. Art about children that isn’t cloyingly sweet is exceedingly rare, and Novaro does an excellent job of letting the children be full humans with personalities, problems, and dreams. 

The film follows siblings Dylan and Andrea as they move to a new town on the Mexican Pacific Coast with their parents. In a delightful twist, the narrator of the film isn’t either of the newcomers, but instead Jacinta, a girl who lives in an animal sanctuary and becomes part of the group of children searching for lost treasure. 

These are children of their time, with technology and all, but they also have a degree of freedom and safety. This is a town of adults who look after the children around them, regardless of relation. As Dylan becomes more and more obsessed with his iPad pirate game, he begins to see the world around him with the same sense of adventure and play. A mark on a tablet screen becomes an X on a real rock. The children rally together to find treasure. 

“Tesoros” tells a very different story than the ones we encounter in the news. It is a place where imagination reigns supreme and the ideas and plans of children are taken seriously by the adults around them. The Pacific Coast Novaro shows us is one with dreamy visits from Sir Francis Drake, days spent working quietly alongside family, and evenings spent dancing. 


You won’t find the sort of narrative conventions we are used to in western cinema. Though on its face this might evoke a Mexican “Goonies,” the ideology of this film is far more distinct. Children in films are often on their own – they are orphans or latch-key kids who go on adventures without their parents’ knowledge, let alone consent. In Novaro’s world, children and adults co-exist, collaborate, and adventure together. 

The children’s performances in this film are naturalistic and nuanced. Though there is a desire to find treasure, there are also many moments of more mundane interactions. A little girl jokes with her uncle. A group of kids delights in the sweets at a friend’s house. A boatful of friends glides through the trees. 

Novaro has said that she made “Tesoros” for children to “strengthen optimism about the future,” and honestly, couldn’t we all use that? 

Watch “Tesoros” on Amazon Prime.

DVDs of María Novaro’s films can be found online and through local libraries. 

Under the Radar offers a chance for us to highlight works by and/or about women that haven’t received big releases or significant coverage in the press, but are wholly worthy of attention.


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