Raindance Film Festival – A Los Ojos – Review – ★★★★

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Borde and A Los Ojos (Through the Eyes) made up a powerful Raindance double-bill by the charming brother and sister team of Victoria and Michel Franco from Mexico.

Both films examined the plight of the single mother portrayed by the exceptional acting talents of Monica del Carmen. Not so much a lead as a central driving force around which the rest of the cast (all non-actors essentially playing themselves) were guided into giving convincing performances.

Up first was Borde, an almost surreal tale about a mother trying to cope with her 4 or 5 (I lost count) small children. A short film which packed such a punch, 30 minutes into the following feature it was still echoing through my mind.

The film opens with a single long take, a static wide shot of an untidy backyard full of kids and the mother dragging two mattresses out to beat them with a big stick. Victoria (who wrote and directed this one) allows the shot to play out. What follows is all about attention to detail and doing what great photographers do – somehow capture that magical moment, that insightful image the rest of us missed.

Del Carmen dictates the piece, bringing performances from the children simply from the force, the instinct and the subtlety of her own. Meanwhile, each shot and each scene is perfectly and imaginatively constructed so that the piece contains a unique energy. It lives.

Almost upstaging del Carmen is the family pet rabbit which is the focus of everyone’s attention and, like in the following A Los Ajos, an innocent bystander who is sacrificed in a disturbingly dark twist. The film ends with a rush of energy and an act of rebellion, the consequences of which we are left to imagine.

Del Carmen plays the mother again in A Los Ojos, this time scripted by Michel Franco and directed by both. The mother, Monica, has a young boy with an eye condition which will soon result in his blindness should he not get an urgent cornea transplant.

Monica is a social outreach worker for the homeless drug addicts in Mexico City. Her desperate need for a donor leads her to an act so cold-hearted, so cruel and which is such a betrayal of trust and her image as the guardian angel of the poor and disenfranchised, it’s almost impossible to feel any sympathy for or understanding of her actions.

Unlike Borde, A Los Ojos suffers a little from the tropes of this genre, which is one of almost documentary level realism. The mood is one note, the pacing becomes predictable, the lingering shots not quite so alive and somehow careless and formulaic by comparison.

Again, it is del Carmen who holds the whole thing together with depth and subtlety. At times it felt like a narrative stretched out to fill in the space when there was so much more I wanted to know about the motivation of Monica and about her as a person. Her life seemed strangely blank – where were her friends and family? How did she come to be the sort of person who can betray everything she’s worked for? Do we simply say, “well, she’s a mother desperate for the good health of her child”?

Perhaps we must answer these questions ourselves and the Francos have left us with simple, lingering silences into which we can exhume our own guilt.

The film ends on the young victim of the piece by the trash, discarded. Played by a real homeless boy, in the following Q&A Victoria told us he still lives on the streets. The homeless, the addicted, the alcoholics playing themselves in the film were not paid, as the money would only be spent on more drugs and alcohol.

Michel Franco has now moved on to more Hollywood-level budgets but promises to keep their subject matter hard-hitting and uncompromising.

Simon Horrocks is an independent filmmaker, digital content producer and professional composer. He has worked in the entertainment industry for over 25 years, collaborating with several notable artists, musicians and filmmakers. His music is used on film and TV around the globe. His debut film was the first micro-budget feature-length film to show at peak time on the BFI IMAX screen, the biggest in the UK.