Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Los Bastardos

Jesús and his younger friend Fausto (estimable first-timers Jesus Moises Rodriguez and Rubén Sosa) are Mexican day labourers in LA. They wait with others outside the downtown Home Depot, go on a job, drink beer in the park. So far so usual. Except they’ve a sawn-off shotgun in their backpack, and they were picked up already that morning for a “quick and easy” job about which they’ve agree not to blab. Something is afoot.

We know from the off that something cinematic is afoot as well: an interminable, static shot shows two tiny figures advancing down the early morning concrete of the LA river. We wait a long time for them to pass the panning camera and clamber up the embankment. Frames are carefully composed; shots are held; gradually, as the pair prove themselves to be the most unhurried house-breakers in the world, tension builds. The Chekovian law of guns is obeyed, and the finale is shocking, although so meticulously (and startlingly) well-executed that the ultra-restrained build-up can’t help but smack of simply servicing a single-shot tour de force – some of those long takes might more effectively have been used on the day’s ditch-digging, for example. The impact is thus slightly tainted with gimmickry (director Escalante has continued to show a penchant for shock).

Race plays its part, of course: the white folks at Home Depot are gently mocked, but their condescension is primarily class-based; the pair encounter a far more unpleasant form of cowardly aggression in the park, but their resentment is implied to stop short of anything more than vindictive intimidation, if only in the name of staying out of (unpaid) trouble. The sense of otherness is reinforced, and the absurd futility of having undergone hellish hardships to attain the very bottom of a socio-economic ladder, when they could be getting drunk to celebrate El Grito the following day.

So, the formalism is slightly forced, the “unexpected” developments are pat, the characters are under-drawn to the point of being generic, and the affluent white mom (Nina Zavarin), despite a game display of middle-age spread, is not a good enough actress to transcend the poor English-language scripting. But moments of humour hit home; the labourers’ camaraderie is as believable as the wretchedness of their situation is palpable; and following the remarkable finale, a strawberry-field coda unexpectedly merges the human and the political in an outbreak of emotion at a secret all the more terrible for the certainty that it will never be exorcised by judicial punishment. Ambitious, and in the end, quite admirable and affecting.

d Amat Escalante p Amat Escalante, Jaime Romandia, Carlos Reygadas sc Amat Escalante, Martín Escalante ph Matthew Uhry ed Ayhan Ergürsel, Amat Escalante pd Gabriel Abraham cast Jesus Moises Rodriguez, Rubén Sosa, Nina Zavarin, Kenny Johnston
(2008, Mex/Fr/USA, 90m)
posted by tom newth at

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