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HASTA MORIR (Until Death) (director: Fernando Sariñana; screenwriter: Marcela Fuentes-Berain; cinematographer: Guillermo Granillo; editor: Carlos Bolado; music: Eduardo Gamboa/Enrique Quezadas Luna; cast: Demián Bichir (Mauricio), Verónica Merchant (Victoria Guemes), Juan Manuel Bernal (El Boy, Juan Carlos), Dolores Beristáin (Aunt Chenta), Ximena Sariñana (Melisa), Maru Dueñas (Diana), Dino García (El Espanto), Monserrat Ontiveros (Adela), Vanessa Bauche (Esther), Alfredo Sevilla (Don Cruz); Runtime: 90; Vida Films; 1994-Mexico)
“A bleak social drama about the violent lives of two troubled street youths in Mexico…”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A bleak social drama about the violent lives of two troubled street youths in Mexico, who live by the honor code that one’s word is gold and betrayal means a call for death. It’s the usual story about hopelessness caused by poverty, lack of education, and an unstable home-life, but it differs slightly because it couches its story around the Biblical one of Cain and Abel. There’s really nothing new here, except it’s set in Mexico. The Mexican Dream of one of the youth’s is to go north and open up a business in Los Angeles. The only trouble with that dream, is that it’s based on getting the money through a kidnapping. This gritty first feature film by director Fernando Sariñana is uncompromising as it captures the marginal world of street gangs, but it offers no more than describing the plight.

Mauricio (Bichir) is a lifetime hardened criminal sporting a pork-pie hat and a “Pachucho lady” tattoo, and a belief that knives are noble weapons. He’s a cool cholo from Tijuana who just got released from prison for killing twice in self defense. He visits his friend from Mexico City, Juan Carlos, called El Boy (Bernal), who lives with his alcoholic Aunt Chenta (Beristain). She’s a batty woman who rants that the Cain from the Bible is in her apartment, and that her mother’s house was stolen from her by her sister. El Boy can’t really fight, but he adopts the tough machismo street code and is armed with a gun. The two consider themselves brothers and decide to get together enough dineros for El Boy’s auntie to go to Tijuana where Mau knows a doctor who can cure her alcoholism and of seeing ghosts.

El Boy introduces Mau to his street gang and life in the big city. Mau in exchange teaches his friend how to fight with a knife. They hang out by a city dump, where they plan robberies and party at night. Meanwhile, Mau lives in the railroad yards in an abandoned railroad car. What excites Mau is the plan he concocted in prison to kidnap a wealthy old man and hold him for ransom. That’s why he came to see his trusted friend, as he expects this big job will be his last and he will then go to Los Angeles to enact his dream. But in order to pull off this job he needs his friend to help with the kidnapping and they need money to carry out the job. To get money, El Boy gets two of his street gang members to help them and they pull off a carjack. They then rob the patrons of an expensive restaurant.

Mau takes El Boy to get his first tattoo after they get some money from a fence, Don Cruz (Sevilla), who receives the stolen goods from the restaurant robbery. The deepest line in the film is said in the tattoo parlor, as Mau tells his friend the real pain comes from inside and that the pain from the tattoo needle means nothing if you don’t feel the pain inside. The two will become separated later on by such real pain, even though they share the same tattoo.

When El Boy tells his friend about the house his auntie says was stolen from her by Victoria Guemes, Mau says they will get the house back for her.

Feeling giddy, the four restaurant robbers drive up to a convenience store to buy beer. El Boy enters the store with his dog Axel, but the hot-tempered youth gets angry when the lady grocer won’t sell him beer because it’s after 7 p.m.. So he pulls a gun and robs the place, but when a security guard shoots his pet dog he responds by killing him. He tells Mau, I had to kill him when he killed my dog. The police trace him through the dog tag and he goes reluctantly on the lam to hideout with the contacts Mau gave him. He is suspicious that Mau wants him out of town so he can rob him of his share of the restaurant robbery. But Mau has other plans, as he visits Victoria Guemes posing as her cousin El Boy. He finds out that she died two months ago and left the disputed property to her attractive young daughter Victoria (Verónica Merchant). She’s a sweet and innocent girl, who is attracted to the young man who intends to swindle her out of her inheritance. His proposal to her is that he sell the property and split the money with her in half, but he’s told by Don Cruz he needs her signature on the mortgage papers to do that. The naive girl blindly trusts him and gives him her signature on the title papers he stole from El Boy. But things change when he surprisingly falls in love with her and changes his plans. He turns over a new leaf and decides to marry her and move to Los Angeles. But El Boy returns and goes looking for his friend who betrayed him with a gun, and eventually forces a deadly confrontation.

It was tough to feel anything for the two troubled street people, except that the conditions of their life were desperate and it left them with very few options. Maybe Mau had really changed and now had a chance to live a decent life through his dream and the love he has for Victoria. One could sympathize with Victoria, but she didn’t seem like the brightest candle in the barrio. The fall of El Boy you could see coming from blocks away, or ever since the film’s beginning when he acted punky. Demián Bichir was convincing as a street tough with street smarts. Manuel Bernal was almost as equally convincing as the jerky punk, who could never keep his wits about him and becomes doomed as a murderer because he can’t control his rage. The film wanted the viewer to feel the pain of these troubled youths and it did a good job as far as that goes. It just painted such a dark picture that it wasn’t a film that was particularly enjoyable or enlightening — it just had a certain truth to it that it couldn’t stop repeating as the plotline kept going around in circles.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”