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Cannes is often criticized for lacking Latin American representations in the main competition, so it was widely believed that the new feature by festival veteran Amat Escalante, winner of the 2013 Best Director for Eli, a place would be guaranteed. Sad to report that looking Lost in the night (lost in the night), it’s easy to see why it was moved to a sidebar. The Mexican filmmaker steps out of the shadow of his former mentor, Carlos Reygadas, with his most accessible work to date in this revenge thriller, which is gripping enough but also a little twisty and underpowered.
Escalante’s fifth feature takes more cues from his television experience onwards Narcos: Mexico compared to his previous big screen work, which could in theory bring him to a wider audience. But it lacks the tight cohesion of that series at its best, and softens the jarring intensity, startling jolts of violence, and nightmarish weirdness on which it’s built his reputation. He went from a burning penis to a gentle handjob in the sun, even when shown close-up without blinking.
Lost in the night
Absorbent, but rarely more.
Place: Cannes Film Festival (before Cannes)
Launch: Juan Daniel García Treviño, Bárbara Mori, Ester Expósito, Fernanda Bonilla, Mafer Osio
Director: Amat Escalante
Screenwriters: Amat Escalante, Martin Escalante
2 hours 2 minutes
The film has a lot in mind. It’s about the impunity of the wealthy in a society mired in corruption; class inequality and low value placed on the lives of the rural poor; art inspired by the violent trauma of other people that purports to expose injustice but more often exploits it; capitalist enterprises that are an environmental blight on farming communities that also need the economic lifeline they provide. It’s also an amateur detective story that explores more basic themes of love and loss, greed and revenge.
Working from a script he co-wrote with his brother, Martin Escalante, the director begins with cinematographer Adrian Durazo’s camera scurrying around an empty lakeside house filled with kinetic sculptures and other artistic masterpieces, clearly owned by of wealthy residents. The cool modernist form of the luxury building already suggests an imposing intrusion into the sun-bleached landscape. (The film was shot in the state of Guanajuato in central Mexico.)
The headline refers to an incident three years earlier when activists protesting the opening of a Canadian-owned mine were pulled over by police, with the driver being shot in the head and the others not seen or heard from since . One of the missing persons is Paloma (Vicky Araico), the mother of Emiliano (Juan Daniel García Treviño), who has grown frustrated with her older sister’s efforts to track her down and knows that the corruption runs too deep in law enforcement and the judiciary. expect results.
The whispered confession of a dying policeman takes Emiliano back to the villa seen in the opening, the home of the Spanish artist Rigo (Fernando Bonilla), his actress-singer partner Carmen (Bárbara Mori) and his daughter Mónica (Ester Expósito), who enjoys making videos in which he simulates his own suicide for likes on social media. Convinced that the family is somehow involved in the disappearances, Emiliano gets a job as a handyman to sniff out evidence. Rigo’s intimacy with a shady policeman (Jero Medina) who may have been working the night of the disappearances further confirms Emiliano’s suspicions.
While the set-up promises an intriguing amateur detective story with very personal stakes, there is too little tension or buildup as Emiliano gets closer to the dark truth. The script devotes much time to a religious cult believed to be targeting Rigo with vandalism and violence due to an artwork he made depicting the founding father as a paedophile. And Mónica’s sexually direct behavior towards Emiliano creates confusion with her adoring teenage girlfriend Jazmin (Mafer Osio).
But Escalante continues to stray from the central mystery, allowing the narrative to slow down, and the drawn-out climax is soft on catharsis. The script’s efforts to shape the story into a reflection of institutional rot in Mexico, where the midpoint between God and profit often ends up being crime, lack teeth.
There’s a twisted fun in tracking down who’s the most screwed up between Mónica, her mother and her stepfather, a closely fought breed; if ever a family demanded vicious treatment from Michael Haneke (or Michel Franco, to keep him in Mexico), this is it.
The performances are solid across the board, with Treviño deftly carrying most of the weight as the young man whose life has become stuck in neutrality, seething with anger and frustration as he waits for answers about his mother. That situation actually carries wider echoes of the countless families in Latin American countries left in the dark after the unexplained disappearances of loved ones.
DP Durazo’s sharp widescreen compositions keep the film interesting even when the plot fails, and the haunting soundtrack by Stranger things composers Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein maintain an atmospheric charge throughout. But for a director who, in films like Eli AND The indomitablehas kept our eyes wide open with sadism, sex and truly bizarre sci-fi, Lost in the night marks a disappointingly conventional swerve.