DIY Cannes 2013: Los Bastardos

bastardos2To stave off the depression of not being at Cannes while everyone I follow on Twitter gabs about their new favorite discoveries, I’ve decided to take the opportunity and hold my own film festival. Every night, I’m going to watch a movie I haven’t seen by one of the director’s debuting on the Croisette. Thanks to the power of Netflix, so many foreign movies and older auteur classics are available for Instant Streaming. Who knows what discoveries I might find along the way?

And yes, I know it’s over, but 2 week long trips in the middle of this project set me back very far. I’m going to finish it up anyway BECAUSE I CARE. Or I’m still unemployed.

Movie #9: Los Bastardos (2008)

Director: Amat Escalante

His Cannes 2013 Movie: Heli

In the last decade or so, Mexico has really begun to make its case as a foreign powerhouse in cinema. Cuarón, Iñárritu, and del Toro have all  made cases for themselves as legendary directors. But the world of Mexican cinema goes so much deeper. Last year for this same project, I watched Silent Light, a film from the groundbreaking director Carlos Reygadas. I didn’t care for it much, so when this year Reygadas’ protégé Amat Escalante was given a competition berth, I knew I would have to suck it up and see what he had to offer.

In Los Bastardos, we figure out pretty early on who the bastards are (spoiler alert: It’s everyone). We spend a whole day with Fausto and Jesus, two illegal immigrants in Southern California just trying to get by and send money home to their families. We see them waiting outside of Home Depot for labor jobs, we see them putting up with racial slurs, but we don’t understand that today is going to be different until one of them reveals the shotgun he has been carrying. While there are exciting plot points, I wouldn’t get your hopes up for a thriller. At best, the pacing is deliberate; at worst, I would call it stagnating. Even the first scene of the movie is about 2 minutes of them walking from very far away up to the camera. This is one of those things that just isn’t my cup of tea.

I usually avoid talking about politics in movies. It’s not that I don’t think that it is something important – I do! I just think that if your movie is successful, it can be 100% enjoyable without ever bringing that into the picture. But here, I have to make an exception.

I spent many of the long, slow, extended takes wondering who exactly is the audience for this film. Since Box Office Mojo doesn’t have any information on it, I can only make guesses. It was probably made exclusively for an arthouse audience. And mostly, that arthouse audience is international in flavor. This played somewhere at Cannes and probably had a week or two in the United States. So I think it is safe to say to make movies for just one audience is foolhardy, especially when it isn’t just for that audience.

As soon as the movie starts out, the illegal Mexican immigrants are established as “other.” They speak Spanish and the men they work for are English-speaking Americans. We see one extended encounter with a white guy who goes to pick them up for their services. He offers them 8 bucks an hour when the Mexicans think they should be offered 10. The American reneges on his promise to drive them back to Home Depot, but ultimately complies when the Mexicans threaten him. We are obviously supposed to sympathize with our Mexican protagonists, but to be quite honest I found it a little difficult. 8 dollars an hour is above minimum wage. Sure he can afford more, but he could also just go find different laborers if he didn’t want to pay that much. And yes he’s a bit of dick, but I don’t think he’s an outrageous dick bag as the movie wants you to think he is.

As the story continues, we meet a couple of other American characters and all of them are almost unilaterally horrible. They use racial slurs and do an impressive amount of illegal drugs. If this is meant to be a biased view, then congratulations on succeeding. But as an American, I felt that we were given a bad rap.

As Fausto and Jesus start to build a relationship with one of the American women, we think that this whole concept will be turned on its head, but alas. No one is so lucky. All politics aside, I can’t say that I enjoyed this movie, but I think it opens a discussion. I haven’t mentioned the violence in this movie since it is fleeting, but powerful. The drug use also raises several questions about our values and how we relate to others. So if you are at all interested, see it. Engage in the discussion. All I ask is that a movie let you talk about it. And I will.

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