TTwo teenagers say goodbye to their mothers in a field in rural Mexico, and they leave home in search of the American dream. The opening moments of Identifying Features by Mexican filmmaker Fernanda Valadez, available to broadcast this week, reflect scenes that unfold every day in Mexico and Central America, as men, women and children travel north in search of safety and job opportunities. .
The 39-year-old Valadez begins her directorial debut in her home state of Guanajuato, a once-peaceful and picturesque state in the center of the country. In recent years, Guanajuato has been a victim of the changing geography and relentless nature of Mexico’s humanitarian crisis; It is now one of the most dangerous places in the country for those who live there and for the people who cross it on the path of migrants.
The inspiration for the film’s central story is based on a real-life account published in the Narco’s Blog – an anonymous blog detailing the crimes of kidnapping or shootings that local newspapers were warned not to report.
The film begins accompanying two teenagers on their journey to the border. The bus they are on is intercepted by armed men who kill most of the passengers. One of the children, Jesús, is saved after agreeing to work for the cartel. You must first kill your friend and burn the bus.
Throughout the film, Valadez combines mystical realism with an unshakable reality. The red fire that envelops the bus and its passengers evokes the fire of hell, a fantastic force of evil.
Valadez says he wanted to do something different with Identifying Features, creating “not just another Latin American film about social concepts and interests.” Instead of adopting the narrative documentary style chosen by many other filmmakers to portray the dangers of the migrants’ journey through Mexico, he has produced a horror film.
“By using more metaphorical figures like the devil to express the violence we felt able to get very close to the audience emotionally,” says Valadez, in an interview.
However, the scenarios Valadez shows us are real. Dozens of buses carrying migrants are believed to have been ambushed in this way in recent years, arriving at their final destination with no passengers, just their luggage. In 2010, 72 migrants from Central and South America who had been kidnapped from various buses were massacred in the northern state of Tamaulipas by members of the Los Zetas cartel after refusing to pay a ransom or accept jobs as hitmen. Only three people survived.
Another character, Jesus’ mother, Magdalena, sets out on a journey of her own, following in the footsteps of her son from her village in Guanajuato to find out what happened to him. Magdalena’s pain and iron determination are counterpoints to the violence of the cartel that lurks behind every corner.
“The key word is empathy,” says Valadez. “Empathy is the bridge from which art in general begins, it is very important for storytelling in movies. It is what has brought this film to an audience we never expected. Empathy is the key to starting conversations. “
People who follow the migrant route are not the only ones at risk of disappearing in Mexico. The film includes the story of a surgeon whose son had disappeared four years earlier while driving to see friends in Monterrey, Nuevo León, a state where enforced disappearances were once so widespread that billboards instructed residents to call the armed forces in the event of an emergency. the police were in cahoots with criminal gangs.
“At first, kidnappings were something you read about what happened to migrants, but in a couple of years [of the launch of the war against drugs] it started to happen closer to home, closer to the cities and the middle classes, ”says Astrid Rondero, who co-wrote and produced Identifying Features.
“When we were teenagers [in Mexico City] It was no longer possible to make a trip down the road to the beach in case the bus was hijacked. Anyone could be in the wrong place at the wrong time, ”he says.
At least 73,000 people have disappeared since the beginning of the militarized war on drugs in 2006, while at least 39,000 unidentified bodies have not been claimed in morgues. This endless war has so far cost the lives of at least 300,000 Mexicans.
Identification of characteristics offers no hope of resolution or an end to families’ desperate search for their loved ones.
“[With this film] We go to the dark side because we are still in this crisis, there is no closure. There was hope for change with the new government of [Andrés Manuel] Lopez But Obrador is out of control now, the stories can be even scarier, ”says Rondero. “The ending is dark because we are still in that place, it feels like a complete betrayal.”
The current administration accepted Donald Trump’s demands to locate thousands of asylum seekers on the Mexican side of the border, where they have been subjected to violence, extortion, kidnapping and inhumane living conditions, according to Human rights observer. Now, at the behest of the Biden government, more troops are being deployed to Mexico’s southern border to stop the crossing of migrants and refugees.
Amid daily reports of atrocities that only seem to get worse, filmmakers believe that art plays a crucial role in evoking empathy and political awareness among those stunned by grief.
“When we show the film here in Mexico, the emotional information helps people finally begin to understand what we have been experiencing since 2000,” says Rondero. “We cannot allow this to happen and we have to do something to change it because it is not normal for so many people to travel on dirt roads looking for their loved ones.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism