I wanted to like this confronting, dystopian thriller but it is so unrelentingly cynical and brutal that it felt it had nothing new to say.
Marianne (Naian González Norvind) and Alan (Dario Yazbek Bernal) are about to get married at a sumptuous party at the cloistered home of her parents. We see people of wealth and power arrive, bestowing gifts on the couple and willfully ignorant of the revolution brewing outside their doors. We see their servants, all indigenous people, dutifully doing their bidding under the peremptory command of Marianne’s mother, Pilar (Patricia Bernal).
A wrinkle arrives in the guise of Rolando (Eligio Meléndez), a former servant come seeking money for his wife Elise’s life-saving operation. He is fobbed off by each family member until Marianne commandeers Cristian (Fernando Cuautle), the son of house keeper Marta (Mónica del Carmen), to drive her to Rolando’s house to save the day. This is the moment when the revolution erupts, brutalising the party-goers and setting Marianne on a tragic path.
Up to this point, director Michel Franco (who directed a film I really liked April’s Daughter (2017)) does a fine job of escalating the tension and giving us insight into the fragile shell of privilege when there is endemic oppression. Where it seems to go awry is in his inability to render the revolutionaries as anything but violent mercenaries or gentle good guys, with no depth of character or exploration of their situation. Franco has been criticised in the press for his stereotyping of indigenous Mexicans and has dug the hole deeper by claiming that criticisms of his film are ‘reverse racism’.
To me, this film seems to have a definite white, male, hetero-normative viewpoint. We spend a lot of time with Marianne – and it is harrowing viewing – and with those in power as they take advantage of the uprising to further their own needs. The inclusion of scenes of sexual violence seems particularly clumsy and designed to shock rather than further the narrative – both instances hint at an underlying misogyny and homophobia. The abuse of Marianne – this kind, soft and pale girl – and her ultimate fate seem to be the greatest horror, not that of Rolando and Elise or Marta and Cristian.
The message of the film is a grim one that ultimately lets its pale-skinned protagonists off far too lightly in the guise of cynicism.
Have you seen this film? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.