(director/writer: Fernanda Valadez; screenwriter: Astrid Rondero; cinematographer: Claudia Becerril Bulos; editors: Susan Korda/Fernanda Valadez/Astrid Rondero; music: Clarice Jensen; cast: Mercedes Hernández (Magdalena), David Illescas (Miguel), Juan Jesús Varela (Jesus), Narda Rivas (Nieta de Alberto Mateo),  Samuel Munoz (Hombre armado en retén), Primo Lara (Padrino), Laura Elena Ibarra (Chuya), Ana Laura Rodriguez (Olivia), Xicoténcatl Ulloa (Pedro), Manuel Campos (Alberto Mateo), Armando Garcia (Rigo), Bertha Denton Casillas (Regis); Runtime: 95; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Fernanda Valadez, Astrid Rondero, Yossy Zagha, Jack Zagha; Avanti Pictures/A Kino Lorber release; 2020-Mexico/Spain-in Spanish with English subtitles)

A compelling but cold and enigmatic arty personal story told in a clinical way.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A compelling but cold and enigmatic arty personal story told in a clinical way, as the first feature from the Mexican woman director-writer Fernanda Valadez. It’s co-written with Astrid Rondero, with strong sympathy for the immigrants. It tells how illegal immigrants from Mexico come to the States under desperate circumstances and are roughly treated by the police. Magdalena’s (Mercedes Hernandez) teenage son (Juan Jesús Varela) left with a friend (Armando Garcia), the son of their neighbor Chuya (Laura Elena Ibarra), two months ago from their small town of Guanajuato, in central Mexico, to seek work across the border and they have not been heard from since. The authorities could care less and offer no help. But they show the mothers a book with a list of unclaimed border crossing corpses. Chuya is horrified to find her son listed as one of the corpses. But there’s no word on Magdalena’s son, who was also ambushed on that same bus (robbed by gangs, aided by the corrupt police). Determined to find out the fate of her son, Magdalena, despite a lack of money, goes on a trek to retrace her son’s route and either find him or get closure.

Her pursuit leads her to a city migrant shelter, where she’s told an older recluse who’d already passed through the area might have been on that same bus. To find him, she’s temporarily helped by Olivia (Ana Laura Rodriguez), a middle-class woman whose search for her own kidnapped son, who is likely dead, has dragged on for four years. Later, Magdalena is helped by an illegal, Miguel (David Illescas), a young man who has just been deported from the U.S. after 5 years and is headed back to his rural home, in the Ocampo region, which is close to where the ambushed bus witness Magdalena is looking for probably lives.

But that area now has few people and is occupied by the hostile militia, who are antagonistic. We’re not sure if these military types work for the government or the cartels. Whatever. They are hostile. When by chance Magdalena meets in town someone who knows about her son, she can’t understand the Indian dialect he speaks and the info is not translated.

The mother’s search finally gets answers, but the conclusion seems improbable and left me wondering what message was being sent in this well-meaning but painful drama.

It won two awards in the World Cinema Dramatic Competition at this year’s Sundance fest.