"The Desert Within": The Welcome Plea of Rodrigo Plá By Jacob Wendt Jensen

in 24th Haifa International Film Festival

by Jacob Jensen

Rodrigo Plá’s The Desert Within (Desierto adentro) was shown in the “Cinema of Tomorrow” Section at the 24th Haifa International Film Festival, competing mainly with first features. This film also started as a debut feature but due to problems with the financing it was only finished after Plá’s La Zona. Probably it was annoying at the time for the director but in the end it was good for him, good for the film and good for us. Compared with the other new films The Desert Within is on a level of its own concerning not only the story and themes but also in the technical department. The viewer really senses an artist behind every dark, impressively lit frame and the decisions of what to focus on and what to leave out.

Rain is pouring down, the clothes are dirty and there is violence in the air 80 years ago in Mexico. We follow Elias. He is a man of the Bible and he will do anything to get into the nearby village to have his child baptized. In a series of events showing the blind faith of the peasant we also learn about his lack of common sense and the feeling of fear. He miraculously survives an encounter with government soldiers who take him for a rebel. Back from the ranks of the execution platoon, he is disowned by his mother. His interpretation of the situation leads to a mad left turn into the desert with two of his kids. In building a church he thinks that he might become one of God’s good children again. His daughter and son do not agree and through the months and years that follow, the sand comes from the desert.

The stark drama has a classical look and it would not be easy to put a certain production year on it if it were not for Rodrigo Plá’s experiments with computer animation. Not as technical wizardry and explosions to lure your attention away from the mega size popcorn bag, but as a discreet underlining of the film’s themes. Like nearly all the decisions made behind the camera of The Desert Within, the use of computer graphics and cartoon-like collage shows us a director with a deep feeling for his story.

These days we see too many people wearing their religion as a costume more often than not with a design that somehow makes them go blind at the same time. Elias gets a dangerous form of tunnel vision in the film and Plá’s plea can be summed up as a warning not to let faith lead to blindness. A welcome warning from an exciting new filmmaker whose upcoming films I am certain we will see in many other sections at bigger film festivals in the years to come.