There and Not Exactly Here

in 53rd Cartagena International Film Festival

by Lucy Virgen

In Here and There, directed by Antonio Méndez Esparza, Pedro returns to his family in his home town of Copanatoyac, nicknamed Copa, after years working in the US. He has earned some money and hopes to launch his musical career as a singer in his own band. His daughters have grown but they are still kids and it is easy for him to be part of the family routine. But after two years of unsuccessfully trying to improve their lives, he decides to go pa’l norte (up north) once again. Here and There was awarded the top prize for Critics’ Week at Cannes in 2012, and it has since screened in Spain and the US. At Cartagena, it won an acting award for its entire cast.

Migrant stories are almost a cliché in New Mexican cinema, spanning both documentary and fiction. They are mostly variations on films about the harsh life in Mexico and the perils of border-crossing, but very few films — a notable exception is Juan Carlos Rulfo’s Los Que se Quedan — remember to address the family left behind.

Esparza avoids drama and keeps a very naturalistic approach, with non-professional actors using their own names — and probably their own clothes — as well as exclusively diegetic music. The film is almost documentary-like but its tone indicates a fear of closeness and personal contact. The screenplay shows an interest in social perspective but it never becomes too emotional. We have to guess at the emotional richness of the characters since they seldom speak and sometimes move rather awkwardly. Some of the characters, such as the teacher and the doctor, speak in a slow, stiff Spanish. At first this makes it seem as if the characters are cold and calculating, but it is more likely due to the fact that in the Copa region, Spanish is a second language for 70% of the population. If this is the case, why didn´t the director let them speak Nahuatl o Mixtec?

The film appeals to our partiality for low-budget cinema and people who are poorly off, so it is difficult to review it as just a movie. A critique of its cinematographic sloppiness could be unfair: to remark on the stiffness of the cinematography and the lack of camera movement could reflect one’s corruption by Hollywood.

Esparza declared that his “only concern was to get a feeling of truth”, and he got it: we seem to be witnessing the everyday life of a family, albeit a rather laconic, shy one. The information we get, spoken or otherwise, is not enough to make us feel close to them and to really care for them. You need to be a master such as Ozu or Mizoguchi to successfully assemble such a minimalist drama. If this is not the case (and how often is it the case?) then a little tweaking of the script, the performances and the mise-en-scene is needed. Here and There is a sincere first film but it needs more craftsmanship to become a good one.

Edited by Lesley Chow