Monday, September 28, 2009
Director: Carlos Carrera
Cast: Ana de la Reguera, Joaquín Cosío, Alejandro Calva
Jimmy Smits, Ázur Zagada, Iván Cortés, Enoc Leaño
Amorita Rasgado, Marco Pérez, Fabián Peña, Carolina Politi
The word "subtlety" doesn't seem to exist in director Carlos Carrera's lexicon. In his newest film he tackles on the gynocide that's been taking place for more than a decade in Ciudad Juárez, México, where countless women are murdered in sexual related cases with little or no results from the police authorities.
"Backyard" (which takes its name from the direct indication that the city is used as that by the United States) takes place in 1996, year when the murders began achieving notoriety.
Idealistic police office Blanca Bravo (de la Reguera-whose performance is obviously inspired by Charlize Theron) arrives in Ciudad Juárez to command an investigation dedicated to the "femicides" (as they begin being called to the disdain of government officials).
Not only will she encounter obstacles that come with the entanglements of the investigation, but she also has to face discrimination within the police force.
The governor (Leaño) resents her interest, while her colleague Fierro (Pérez) only cares about getting to the top in his career.
But not all is lost for Blanca as she finds key collaborators in a local radio host (Cosío) and a woman (Politi) who has an institution that protects abused women.
If you think you've heard this story before, there is still more to come as Carrera introduces a parallel main story; Juanita (Zagada) is a seventeen year old woman who arrives in Juárez to work in a local maquiladora (transnational manufacturer).
In the space of three months she turns from a noble, naive woman into a heartbreaker who leaves her boyfriend (Cortés) because she still has more people she wants to meet.
Juanita and Blanca's stories will obviously intersect at some point; one being a police officer and the other target for the city killers, it's only too clear where the movie will lead.
But Carrera thinks that by including subplots with drug dealers, corrupt Americans (Smits who plays the exact opposite of wholehearted, tough, goodness we're used to seeing from him) and press manipulation he will achieve depth.
What the movie accomplishes instead is to become a didactic discourse where the good are utterly pure and the bad deserve instant punishment (even if the good have to suffer endlessly to get to this).
Carrera tries to give the whole thing a flavor of Hollywood thriller by adding suspense and hinting at a possible serial killer.
The thing is that he treats each subject as something external that must be dealt with but never analyzed. All of his characters are archetypes (better than saying clichés) that come by default in genre movies.
He doesn't even bother to hide the obviousness of the character's names and what they come to represent, Blanca Bravo (could be translated as brave white-purity, peace etc.) is the ultimate heroine who suffer but never gives up.
The rest of the characters talk about the murders as if they're reading straight out of a teleprompter, they inform, but never feel.
And things get our of control in the movie with the fate of Juanita, who Carrera has built as a Lolita worthy of the punishment she gets. Some audience members might even find reasonable motivations for the ordeal she goes through (think "Othello" meets "Babel").
With pompous characters that utter things like "cheap proletariat", it's obvious that Carrera wasn't interested in the Juárez situation, other than for the pats in the back he would get for treating such a delicate subject.