It’s December in Mexico City in “El Sabor de la Navidad,” where fake Santas, queso relleno and karaoke machines are all just smoke and mirrors covering over the true meaning of Christmas. Helmed by Alejandro Lozano, this endearing Spanish-language Christmas film intertwines three separate stories of families and friends grappling between tradition and progression, trying to discern which is most important.
Ahead of the film’s global premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, producers Salma Hayek Pinault and Jose Tamez spoke with Variety about Ventanarosa, their production company, which is behind the film, creating films for Spanish-speaking audiences and their latest joint endeavor.
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“We enjoy what we do, and we take pride in what we do,” Hayek Pinault says about the work at Ventanarosa. “The last project we did, ‘Santa Evita,’ I think we won everything, no, Pepe?” (Everyone, including Hayek Pinault, refers to Tamez as Pepe.) While maybe not everything, Ventanarosa’s 2022 Hulu original “Santa Evita,” about the life and death of Eva Perón, took home over a dozen awards.
“We believe in projects that represent the community in the right way, but also makes them think, makes them feel proud of who we are,” Hayek Pinault adds. “And we do it under very challenging budgets.”
And with “El Sabor de la Navidad,” Hayek Pinault and Tamez were able to do just that. The film tackles numerous modern-day challenges, whether it’s trying to get through to a terminally online generation, trans acceptances or navigating class differences.
In one storyline of the film, a mother (Mónica Dionne) must learn to accept her transgender daughter Penelope when she decides to attend Christmas dinner. “Sometimes when it’s a family member, you have to accept first, and then understand. But it’s important to go towards that second step, so you’re not tolerating a loved one, but totally loving someone,” Hayek Pinault says.
“I was trying to present three stories about love,” says Tamez, who is also the writer of the film. “Being a member of the gay community, that was story that resonated with me. And I thought it could resonate with everyone, regardless of your situation.”
In addition to harnessing progression, the producers made sure to spotlight tradition by incorporating Mexican heritage, specifically through southern Mexican cuisine and Christmas traditions, from the Santa Clauses that gather in parks to the authentic Yucatán menu that a Mexican chef crafted for Mariana Treviño’s character to prepare for Christmas dinner.
The film captures an overall magic of Christmas that Tamez took from classic American films but roots it less in lore and fantasy and more in reality and connectivity. When he explained the story behind “El Sabor de la Navidad” to his partner, his partner told him it was akin to “Love, Actually,” though, Tamez admits he’s never seen the film. He instead aimed to capture the uplifting feeling one gets when watching the end of “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
As the film heads to streaming platform ViX in November, the producers hope audiences take away the importance of community and togetherness, especially during the holiday season. Hayek Pinault says, “It’s a movie you can watch with both your transgender best friend and your mother.”
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