Reviewed by Ian Payne

In a special midweek screening, the Club bought Mexico's Oscar submission, Tótem, to the Alhambra. The film had deservedly won the Audience Award at last month's film festival after a screening at Rheged.

Lila Avliés' follow-up to The Chambermaid, Tótem, is set amid the preparations for what will be the final birthday party of terminally-ill Tona. Tensions between his sisters simmer away throughout the day, exacerbated by the escalating costs of Tona's care and the awful knowledge of what is to come. Central to the story is Tona's 7-year-old daughter Sol, left in the house to be looked after by her relatives in the build up to the party. She, above everyone else, is acutely aware of her father's fate, trying to process it in her young mind – it is going to be the end of her world. The fact she cannot see Tona during the day – he is just too weak – further deepens her anxiety.

Instead of giving Sol the attention and comfort she deserves, the family bickers, bakes, drinks and prepares for the evening. Sol is left to her own devices, wandering through the house, observing the absurdities of the adults around her – the charlatan brought in to cleanse the party house of bad spirits ("I also sell Tupperware" she says), her gruff grandfather endlessly tending a bonsai tree – the most ludicrous of birthday gifts for his son, with only days to live.

As evening draws in, Tona is finally strong enough to see his daughter and go in to the party. It is a joyous occasion which only highlights the void that Tona's death will leave behind for friends and family. The long, final, candle-lit close-up of Sol (a luminous debut by young actress Naíma Sentíes), staring into space with the sounds of the party around her will stay long in the memory.

Tótem excellently captured the dynamic of this turbulent family. The tight camera work drew the audience in, making the viewer feel they were part of the occasion. Strangely, for such an intimate film, the big screen at Rheged only served to make the screening even more immersive, perhaps contributing to that outstanding audience score.