Prayers for the Stolen: A Powerful Film About Mexican Cartel Violence [critique]

Discovered at Cannes, this powerful film by Mexican director Tatiana Huezo is available on Mubi.

Presented in the official selection at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival, this Prayers for the Stolen (Night of Fuego) is the first fiction feature film by Mexican-Salvadorian Tatiana Huezo. The latter was until now known for its documentaries. A work important enough for the festival Visions of the Real recently organized a retrospective of his work. In particular, we discovered his Tempestad where the director filmed the testimony of two Mexican women, one of whom had seen her daughter kidnapped by members of a cartel. This necessarily poignant story resonates brutally today with this “prayer”, freely inspired by a novel by Jennifer Clement, whose action takes place in a village in northern Mexico plagued by regular gang raids. Tatiana Huezo’s camera immediately seeks to celebrate the beauty of the setting offered to her. The care given to the image with a studied reproduction of colors and the delicacy with which each movement is executed, can be seen as an aesthetic break by a director asserting a change of course. Exit, therefore, the “chaotic” form of the documentary. Fiction, on the other hand, is supposed to advance in majesty. This virginal purity, one guesses, will be partly sullied by the drama to come. Thus the splendor of the location of the action, enveloped in luxuriant mountains, soon contrasts with the rawest violence.

teenage intimacy

The first images show young girls digging a hole to deposit the body of one of their visibly amused girlfriends. We will see that this game is in reality a gesture of survival. One of the inhabitants has just been kidnapped, the rest her family massacred. From then on, the mothers of the village live in fear of seeing their child disappear too. We soon find two of the girls from the beginning, their eyes filled with tears, at the hairdresser. Their long hair, which had suddenly become cumbersome, disappeared. Here they are, boys. If we can reproach the aestheticization of the story, the filmmaker by assuming her biases of direction until the end manages to pose a mysterious veil. This mystery, beyond the stumbling blocks of reality, is synchronous with an adolescent intimacy which seeks to fulfill itself against all odds.

Mexico. By Tatiana Huezo. With : Ana Cristina Ordoñez González, Marya Memberño, Mayra Batalla… Available on Mubi from April 29

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