February 11, 2021 – This Mexican film highlights an aspect of the immigration issue not generally covered in American media: The dangers of the immigrant journey south of the U.S. border and the missing, who never make it to the border.
Two young friends, Jesus (Juan Jesús Varela) and Rigo (Armando García) head off to America from Guanajuato in central Mexico. Two months later, the mothers of the two boys have not heard from them. They go to the authorities, who tell them there is not much that can be done, due to the large number of people who disappear every year on the dangerous road north.
The remains of Rigo are later identified. He was reportedly badly burned in a fire by men who attacked the bus in which he and Jesus were riding. Jesus is still missing. Police tell his mother, Magdalena (Mercedes Hernández) that he is probably dead because a backpack he was carrying was found at the site of the attack.
A chance meeting with another woman, Olivia (Ana Laura Rodríguez) who has come to identify the remains of her long lost son who died only recently, convinces Magdalena to continue the search for her own son. She hopes against hope to find him alive, but is afraid he is dead. This leads her on a long and dangerous journey.
Magdalena first goes to the bus company, where she gets the runaround, but a sympathetic employee tells her she might get some information from a woman at a nearby migrant shelter. At the shelter, Magdalena learns that a bus was attacked, and that the lone survivor of the attack, an old man, lives in a far away remote village in a dangerous area.
Since this may be the only person she may be able to talk to who may have seen what happened to her son on the night of the attack, she heads out to look for him. In a parallel story, Miguel (David Illescas) a young man deported from the United States heads back home to visit his parents and grandparents, which happen to live in the same area where Magdalena is going.
She meets Miguel near the home of his parents after a long, hard journey through land patrolled by armed drug gangs. Nobody wants to drive there, so both of them have to walk there. Suspense is their constant companion.
Miguel takes Magdalena to his parents home, but nobody is there. The house is deserted and the livestock has been killed. They stay there overnight, and the next day they head into town to see if Miguel's grandparents know what happened, but his grandparents have disappeared as well. Miguel, who has spent years away from home, is devastated. If anyone knows what happened to his family, they are not talking.
Magdalena travels on alone to find the old man who saw what happened on the night her son disappeared. After another long walk and getting a boat ride across a reservoir, she finally meets the old man. His tale comes from the very heart of darkness.
The old man tells her a surrealistic tale of a “devil” who killed the bus passengers, but the gang let him live for some reason. The tale is told against a backdrop of blazing fires and shadows. Magdalena discovers nothing specific about the fate of her son from this disheartening tale.
On the way back home, however, she discovers the truth about what happened the night the devil attacked the bus, and it is certainly not what she expected, or what the police thought happened that night.
Mercedes Hernández gives a rich and nuanced performance as the sad, determined mother on a quest for the truth, and there are some other excellent performances in the film as well. The story, which is kind of a road story, is compelling.
Unlike most road movies, which are about the characters which turn up on the trip. This movie is more about the effect that the words these people speak have on one character, Magdalena. In a number of scenes, this is emphasized by camera work.
The faces of people talking to Magdalena are not shown in many scenes. In several scenes we see very little of the people talking to her. Instead, the film focuses on Magdalena's face, and the effect their words have on her. The exceptions to this are a couple of other mothers whose sons have disappeared, and Miguel, who is on his own sad journey of discovery.
This is a powerful, spare film of desolate landscapes, danger, inhumanity and tragedy. It rates a B.
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