News from Afar

(Noticias lejanas). In a saltpeter desert in Mexico's interior, there is, incongruously, a lake where geese appear. Just as incongruously, there is a small hamlet in this bleached land, with only a number for a name, “17,” and a tiny community of inhabitants who enjoy a cooked goose together as if they were landowners of leisure. But they are not, as the camera assures us in close-ups of work-weathered adults and anxious children. Martín is a teenager among them. His story unfolds in an evocative style that shifts with his physical environment. At home in the desert with his fragile mother and indifferent stepfather, Martín's days are spent wandering the white expanse and picking up odd jobs. Seeking his birth father, he journeys to Mexico City, where he is befriended by a waitress with her own tragic story. Upon returning to the saltpeter flat to see to his mother, he finds it more deserted than ever. Ricardo Benet captures a landscape of physical and emotional aridity with endless cinematic imagination and, frequently, a painter's hand. Yet his film never veers from its affecting and contemplative look at life as it is lived in Mexico's new ruins. Benet shares with other directors, from Luis Buñuel to Carlos Reygadas (Japón), the sensibility that Mexico is an inherently surrealistic landscape where man struggles with the devil, and the devil is futility. But his hero Martín rebels against this artistic heritage as much as the dried-up cesspool of a life he was offered. A remarkably assured feature debut.

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