WITHOUT A TRACE (Leaving No Trace) (SIN DEJAR HUELLA) (Que no quede huella)

(director/writer: Maria Novaro; cinematographer: Serguei Saldivar Tanaka; editor: Angel Hernandez Zoido; cast: Aitana Sanchez-Gijon (Ana/Marilu), Tiare Scanda (Aurelia), Jesus Ochoa (Mendizabel), Martin Altomaro (Saul), Cristina Michaus (Lolis), Silverio Palacios (Heraclio Chuc), Edmundo Sotelo (Juan); Runtime: 110; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Dulce Kuri; Atavista Films; 2000-Mexico-in Spanish with English subtitles)

“A Mexican Thelma and Louise, but without the same hard-edge.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Maria Novaro (“Lola”/”Danzon”) directs and writes a “Mexican Thelma and Louise,” but without the same hard-edge. It follows the adventures of two women, Ana (Aitana Sanchez-Gijon) and Aurelia (Tiare Scanda), who are opposites but become traveling companions and must learn to depend on each other as they face an unknown danger. Both are on the run for different reasons. Ana’s real name is Marilu and she’s a sophisticated, Gucci sunglasses wearing, Spanish-born college educated art major raised in Mexico, who is a smuggler of counterfeit Mayan artifacts. Her counterpart Aurelia is an uncultured, practical-minded, maternal, high school dropout and sweatshop worker who has just robbed her drug dealer ex-husband Saul’s drug money in the hopes of escaping her dead-end life. She is going to the tourist city of Cancun to work in a hotel as a waitress, hoping to make a better life for her precious children.

The two strangers meet in a rest spot in a small border town, where the sexy Ana hitches a ride in Aurelia’s station wagon. The bosomy and curvaceous Aurelia has dropped her 6-year-old son Juan off in Juarez with her more stable sister Professor Colis, someone who rejects Aurelia’s loose lifestyle, and takes with her the infant Billy who is from another man, whom she dotes after and nurses along the way. Aurelia leaves the dejected Juan with an airplane ticket to meet her in Cancun at a later date, who immediately upon his mom’s departure asks his aunt how long till that day.

After crossing the Sonora desert from Arizona, Marilu has been taken in for questioning by the ruthless, corrupt Mendizabel (Jesus Ochoa), a sleazy Mexican border officer who has a history with her and desires not only to arrest her but to take her to bed. After finding illegal contraband in the form of a fake Mayan artifact, the bully officer allows her to leave in a destitute state after she spurns his advances. But, he has her trailed as she heads back to her Indian boyfriend Heraclio Chuc and plans to this time confiscate her works and take her by force.

On the news, it’s reported a serial killer has struck in a series of murders of young women who work in the sweatshops near where Aurelia resides. A norteño music soundtrack from the car radio sets the wacky surreal mood, as the girls try to bond despite their differences. What brings them together is a mysterious red car that keeps following them no matter how they try to dodge it, as each thinks the car’s passenger is after them. The strong-willed women get a chance to show that they are not easy pushovers to the horrible men who pursue them. All the men appear as mere props for the women, around only to show how miserable men can be.

If you think about how Novaro resolved this thriller it doesn’t quite add up, as the payoff that comes when the chics reach their destination seemed less realistic than artificially tacked on to give it a crowd-pleasing feel-good flavoring. This too easy way of ending things (which I won’t spoil for those who haven’t seen the film) was not earned by the storytelling. It’s like “Duel,” if it were a chic flick. Novaro keeps all eyes away from the thin plot as she keeps the viewer diverted by focusing on the sexual tension between the ladies (who both give solid performances) and the beautiful touristy scenery as the women travel on the back roads past towns with symbolically charged names like No Turning Back and Shifting Sands and across the pristine sandy tracts of the northern border regions and the lush Yucatan tropics and finally to the appealing sunny beach of Cancun.

Leaving No Trace Poster

REVIEWED ON 2/15/2004 GRADE: C +     https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/