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« Carol Danvers and Gloria Bell had good weekends | Main | Review: 3 Faces »
Sunday
Mar102019

SXSW Review: "The Wall of Mexico" 

Abe Fried-Tanzer reporting from the SXSW Festival in Austin Texas

Of the many responses to Donald Trump that have come from the film community, nothing seems more overt a reference at the current moment than a film titled The Wall of Mexico. Yet our president doesn’t figure into the movie at all, and he’s not even referenced, explicitly or vaguely. Instead, the tables are turned and the wall referenced actually serves to protect a Mexican-American family from the uneducated Americans around them...

This shouldn’t be misunderstood as a high-minded parody comparable to Veep or Borat. This is a film all its own, prone to peculiar scenes and a narrative that feels purposely directionless, meant to hypnotize its audience and trap them within its bizarre reality. The best frame of reference is the previous film from co-directors Zachary Cotler and Magdalena Zyzak, Maya Dardel, which starred Lena Olin as a dying writer who auditions eligible men to be the executor of her estate. There are many moments in that odd, unsatisfying film in which Olin chips away at what she perceives as the banal unintelligence of others. A similar personality exists in this film in the form of Ximena (Carmela Zumbado), one of two adult daughters prone to sharing highly intellectual theories about the future that don’t track at all with the comparable simplicity and immaturity of her earthier sister Tania (Marisol Sacramento). 

The narrative of this film is centered on this family’s legendary well, which allows them to extract and sell water at an extraordinary cost to the people of the town around them. There is an immediate distinction made between Mexico, pronounced as natives of the country might say it, and Mexico, enunciated with an American accent, and this family definitely exists as residents of the latter. The wall that they eventually begin to construct is a direct response to an actual threat made by those who live just beyond their property and seek to tap into the profits they make, not merely allegations of undesirables having access to untold riches and prosperity that should be reserved only for those of a certain nationality. 

A film with this title is going to create waves, and those who see it expecting a documentary about the physical border between the United States and Mexico or even a normative, mainstream drama will be both disappointed and perplexed. Casting a white actor, Jackson Rathbone, as the hired help disrupt expectations even further, but the result is an entirely uneven rollercoaster. The ride is interesting, but it feels much more like a film designed to provoke and confound more than one made to reward audiences for their invested time.

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