Directed by Laura Plancarte
Starring Anais Alvarado, Dimitri Andreas, Claudia Coulter
Indie film review by Chris Olson
The harrowing drug war which rages in Mexico has been the source of many films in recent years. Traffic (2000), Man on Fire (2004) and End of Watch (2012) are a few of the better known movies, alongside a wealth of others, and some deeply affecting documentaries. Laura Plancarte’s film, Tierra Caliente (also the name of a town in Mexico in which this film is set), delivers a disturbing blend of both film and documentary, telling the story of a family in Mexico who suffer through the bloodbath caused by the drug cartels
Using the verbatim script of a family’s description of their lives, this indie film is able to add a huge sense of tragedy and pathos to a beautiful piece of filmmaking. Intense close-up shots are used in abundance, whilst some quick cutting scenes and abstract sequences are blended in to add a richness to the viewing experience, creating a tapestry of violence and humanity. This coalescence is a unique approach to the Mexican drug war, as it has so many facets to draw upon, including real life testimony, the audience is never allowed a moment’s rest.
There are moments in Tierra Caliente that seem like a play, with overly theatrical performances trying to wring the emotion out of the situation, but these are unnecessary. The strengths of the movie can be found in its intensity, bolstered by an atmosphere of impending misery. Plancarte is unrelenting in creating an immersive atmosphere, one which exudes a potent instability through the breakdown of this family unit through circumstances beyond their control. Scenes that endure without dialogue are utterly moving, allowing the grief that seems to be ever-present to dominate the frame.
If you are looking for a more coherent plot, similar to the films mentioned earlier, Tierra Caliente will probably leave you wanting. This is no simplistic beginning, middle, end retelling of some dramatic story from a troubled country, this is a heartbreaking tapestry of how an ordinary family would survive this type of horrific situation. At times it lacks the “entertainment” value of a linear narrative, restricted by the form it has adopted, and the dialogue-driven scenes can seem a little mumbling, but overall its ambition shines through and should be totally celebrated.
Filmmaking like this deserves our attention as it is telling a seemingly familiar story in a completely unique way. Unrelenting in creating her movie, the direction from Plancarte is of an incredible standard considering the nature and tone of the film, but anyone approaching the film thinking the outcome will be any different to other stories about the Mexican drug cartels will be sadly disappointed.
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