Magazine article Screen International

Los ÁNgeles

Magazine article Screen International

Los ÁNgeles

Article excerpt

Dir/scr: Damian John Harper. Mexico-Germany. 2014. 97mins

There are precedents for a North American director immersing himself in the migrant experience from a perspective south of the border - notably Joshua Marston's Maria Full Of Grace, and Cary Fukunaga's Sin Nombre - and Damian John Harper takes the attempt at cultural empathy a step further, by forming his cast entirely of the inhabitants of a Mexican hamlet.

In his own way, Harper fails to engage, his constant use of a shallow depth of field withholding a visual account of the community he's attempting to depict. It's an exhausting affectation that leaves one feeling short changed.

But what he gains in authenticity, he loses in dramatic impact. With his first feature Harper doesn't yet demonstrate the filmmaking chops of Fukunaga, nor can he exploit from his non-actors the sort of powerhouse performance that Catalina Sandino Moreno afforded Marston. As a result, Los Ángeles is an unlikely prospect for even those art-house distributors traditionally tempted by the milieu.

It starts auspiciously, though. We first hear the sound of dogs barking, frantic running, violence, a voice counting out blows. As the film fades into dusk, the young victim of the beating is dragged to his feet. He spits blood.

This is Mateo (Mateo Bautista Matías), a teenager who is undergoing a painful initiation into his local gang. In this impoverished Zapotec community, in rural Oaxaca, work across the border is seen as a lifeline. Mateo and his family are scraping together the money that will send him illegally to Los Angeles. "LA is a jungle full of wild animals." he tells his younger brother. "If you are not in a gang there, they will kill you." He believes that membership of a local outfit will pave the way for getting "down with the hood" in America.

He's making progress. Robbing a church earns the respect of the loathsome gang leader Daniel. …

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