Written & Directed by Rodrigo Reyes Starring Daniel Muratalla & Anna Maria Muratalla
Indie Film Review by Dean Pettipher
Somewhere within the shiny, colourful, neatly arranged pages of the sixtieth BFI London Film Festival programme, California’s calling. The call comes not from the heavenly visions of sparkling white palaces and glistening azure-blue swimming pools surrounded by elegant palm trees dancing in the light breeze, which have come to embody the film industry of Western civilization within the collective psyche of her citizens. Instead, the source of that cry leads those who choose to follow it into the much more deprived section of society occupied by an underclass of America, trapped within, and fighting tirelessly against, damning circumstances forced upon them from birth. Moreover, it is an underclass grossly misunderstood as a group of monsters or pitiful victims, even though they demonstrate in practice repeatedly that the vast majority of their communities are decent people desperately trying to earn a living for themselves and their families. With Lupe Under the Sun (2015), director Rodrigo Reyes and his team of collaborators share an overall highly compelling glimpse into their world through which an authentic channel for their voice is skilfully created, consequently allowing its unique tones to be heard as clearly as the art of the moving image can manage.
The imagery of Lupe’s California pulls off a remarkable feat in relentlessly capturing the results of years of seemingly endless neglect and deprivation, while simultaneously showing off the glamour that somehow remains unspoiled, most notably in the form of the golden natural landscape forever kissed by the sun’s raging and unforgiving heat from above. Such beauty endures a clear tainting from various human-made wreckages, which include the more obvious residential ruins, as well as the misfortune that the protagonist suffers at the hands of forces both from others and from himself. The film enjoys a poignant rhapsody with clear and tasteful Mexican influences. One would only wish that such melodies were more prevalent throughout the picture, for the mood invariably dulls in its distressing absence, at times towards sleep-inducing levels.
Courtesy of an expertly controlled and evidently heartfelt performance, Daniel Muratalla creates a likeable and sweet protagonist with Lupe. What follows this presentation is a robust connection with the audience, which encourages them to instantly appreciate Lupe’s epiphany that compels him to return home at all costs. Moreover, audiences can relate only too well to Lupe’s despair in coming to terms with his fugacious youth, now drained to its last drop at least on the outside, and then employing his awareness of such a development as personal motivation to make significant changes to an existence. One that has reached incalculable levels of mundaneness he can no longer tolerate.
Lupe’s story features an interesting take on the framed narrative, for it begins and ends with a younger relative representing the family that Lupe left behind, ostensibly out of necessity. The technique addresses the gaps in the character’s backstory left behind by Lupe not being a particularly loquacious character. Additionally, the technique aids the establishment of considerable emotional investment from the audience in Lupe’s quest. Such an outcome proves vital while the tale gradually develops towards everything falling to pieces and Lupe, at a glance, maintains his sanity, thus inspiring great admiration for his inner strength of character.
￼ Beyond the fourth wall, Lupe is constantly under threat from a consistently slow pace, marked mainly by a plot with very, very little action and a fragmented backstory. The former dilemma appears, to its credit, to ultimately tackle harsh, harmful stereotypes linked with the Mexican migrants living in the USA that Lupe represents. However, the cost is a frequent seeping in of the boredom alluded to earlier. Thus, the slightest hint of humour or high drama is leaped upon by the audience, in the form of a giggle or a gasp, as if those hints were drops of water leaking from a broken tap in the middle of a vast desert that a thirsty traveller had just discovered by divine chance and devoured almost instantly without a single fully formed thought. The latter dilemma results in just enough information to keep the audience routing for Lupe but risks a conclusion to his tale that is far from satisfying because of a great number of mysteries that seem unsolved, which rather than being complicated plot webs, are rather just simple questions that are left unanswered. In their wake stands and ending as frustrating as it is thought-provoking, even if only because the audience want the best for Lupe’s bruised but defiantly gentle soul.
In the end, in spite of a few trips and sleepwalks along the way, Lupe Under the Sun emerges victorious, with high expectations for the director and cast, should they continue their journey in the film business. The prevalence of the film’s often deliberately repetitive imagery over its very succinct employment of language especially encourages tenuous but nonetheless clear links with the filmography of Terrance Malik, particularly The Tree of Life (2011) and To the Wonder (2012), albeit Lupe’s world is understandably less flamboyantly depicted. Regarding its impact on a much grander scale, the movie serves as yet another reminder to be weary of the hateful dust on the horizon. To address the concerns associated with Mexican migrants in America for instance requires not the construction of walls, or the unkind labels that permanently associate an entire group with monstrous acts, but rather practical and credible action rooted in charity that slowly but surely eases the difficulties without causing collateral damage. More immediately at least, Lupe Under the Sun symbolizes the fruits for both sides possible from successful implementations of Mexico-USA co-operation. The underclasses of a nation, whatever their exact background, have been given, even if not in the most literal sense, time under the spotlight, as a gentle reminder that their voice must never be extinguished.
60TH BFI London Film Festival show times: Thursday 6th October 2016 at 21:00 in the Ritzy Cinema and Friday 7th October 2016 at 13:30 at BFI Southbank