Carlos Reygadas / Mexico / 2001
An urbane stranger (Alexjandro Ferretis) arrives near a remote Mexican village. When questioned he simply states that he has come here to die. Taking board with the elderly Ascen (Magdalena Flores) introduces him to the machinations of her nephew: a man willing to demolish his aunt's home for the stone. Events distract the stranger from his flirtations with suicide.
Blending aspects of intensely personal filmmaking with more classical fare traverses a curious art house frontier where formalised and documentary traditions stalk each other in blown up 16mm. The more traditional sequences lend ethereal aspirations to the stranger's death pangs with meticulous scoring, location and cinematography. Soaring into the clouds with rotating panning shots, the stranger's failure to create even his own death is ambitiously realised, overcoming and even embracing unease with the grainy film stock with stark landscape and sheer power. The final outcome of Ascen's tale surpasses even these epiphanies by revealing her fate in slow but inevitable orbits of a rock scattered railway track.
More in keeping with the film stock, the village and Ascen's family betrayal are portrayed with earth bound banality in work which murkily drifts between documentary and 'kitchen sink' style social drama. Magdalena Flores is a first time actress from a nearby village; much of the rest of the cast are locals. Children smile at the camera, cats are found in engines, genuinely intoxicated villagers sing songs and one man denounces the film crew as miserly. Throughout the film time is taken to reflect on village life and the little peculiarities that separate it from the urban template of the stranger and the film crew.
Climax occurs when the techniques mate in a bout of rarely seen cinematic gerontophilia. Seemingly in order to divorce himself fully from the world the stranger feels he must fuck his last human link to it. Consent separates this performance from rape, but Ascen agrees to the act in the same manner she agrees to let her nephew tear her house down. Shot unflinchingly the stranger attempts to impose direction on proceedings and Ascen meekly complies. Just like his suicidal gesticulations, the stranger is once again left unsatisfied. Hammer hits stone soon after and the house is sundered. In keeping with the life study aspects of the film, an equine love scene invokes more passion than this coupling.
Despite the portrayed beauty of the stranger's preening for spiritual departure, the underlying sense is that Ascen's house is being knocked down in reality. The stranger is the director's intrusive avatar. An entity attempting to impose a little burst of self-gratification within the spectacle of a sordid little village tragedy.