December 10, 2021 – There is not much of a story in this Mexican movie, based on a similarly spare book by Jennifer Clement, but there are many details about fear-driven life in a remote Mexican mountain village where drug cartels and human traffickers dominate.
Rather than telling a conventional story, this movie focuses, documentary-like on the details of every day life in a very realistic way. Some call this kind of movie an example of Cinéma vérité. Director Tatiana Huezo has a background in documentary films, including “Tempestad,” an award-winning film related to human trafficking in Mexico.
Despite a nearby mining operation, the only real jobs for most in the village are in harvesting opium from poppies for the drug cartels. Pretty girls are abducted from the village on a regular basis. Rita (played by Mayra Batalla) worries about her pretty daughter, Ana (played by both child actor Ana Cristina Ordóńez González and as an adolescent by Marya Membreńo). Like other villagers living in fear, she has Ana's hair cut short, and identifies her as a boy so she won't be taken.
Ana's friend Maria (played by child actor Blanca Itzel Pérez, and later as an adolescent, by Giselle Barrera Sánchez) has a cleft palate, so she is relatively safe, until an operation repairs her lip, making her an abduction target.
Local military patrols don't make the villagers feel safe, since the soldiers have been bribed by the drug cartels to ignore the crime going on around them. The only businesses in the village, like the hairdresser, who feel safe, are the ones who have paid protection money to the criminal overlords.
The helicopters that are supposed to spray poison on the poppy fields to control the drug trade, spray the village instead, because the helicopter pilots, too, have been bribed by the cartels. Sometimes, things seem almost normal in the village. There seems to be no local criminals in charge, but then the criminals show up, speeding into town in big, shiny, new black vehicles, firing guns, threatening residents and kidnapping girls.
In one scene, Rita and Ana happen upon the body of a woman. A note on the body serves as a warning to anyone who would dare to oppose the rule of the criminals. The people exist only to serve the interests of the criminals, and the nearby mining operations. Rita's husband has run away, and has stopped sending her money to live on. She is forced to work in the poppy fields. That, at least, makes her worth something to the drug cartels.
This is an example of a pure system of capitalism, with very little government involvement. The drug cartels who run this village are interested in it mainly as a source of labor to help produce the product they sell. It is simply a means of production. It is also a source of pretty young girls, who are harvested for pleasure and profit, like opium.
Some of the description of this movie above comes to you indirectly from the book on which it is based. That is because the movie really doesn't explain everything that is going on in it. Its story is fragmented and incomplete. I had to deduce most of this from hints dropped in the movie. I think reading the book first would be a good primer for this movie.
Without this background, all you get are details, the the big picture about what's going on. I may have lost some of it in translation, since all the dialog is in Spanish, and I don't speak the language. I had to rely on the subtitles. This movie is the official Mexican entry for the Best International Feature Film into the 94th annual Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Awards. For me, though, it was a bit of a slow-moving slog. I give it a C+.
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