Posted by Ian Mantgani on 12th October, 2012
In 2009, director Antonio Méndez Esparza made the 27-minute short Una y Otra Vez (Time and Again) about a Mexican immigrant jobbing around New Jersey. I haven’t seen it, but suspect Esparza’s new feature, Aquí y allá (Here and There), might have benefited by being intercut with footage from the previous project. Pedro de los Santos plays the leading role in both – Here and There is the result of Esparza being inspired by his actor’s story, and casting him in a role loosely following his own life, as a Mexican who returns to the old country after working some time in America.
For how long Pedro was away, what he thought of the States and how much money he made there are all questions more or less unanswered, which is why I speculate that cutting between the material of both films could have made for a more moving experience. That, and the fact that Here and There is flat and directionless even as a study of Pedro’s life in Guerrero, Mexico.
Events do happen: Pedro (the character is named for the actor) struggles to connect with his kids; he does a bit of agricultural work; he plays in a band called the Copa Kings in an attempt to make a living doing something more fun. But the scenes are slow and static – it’s like an early Jim Jarmusch film, except instead of long silences played for absurd comedy, they’re cack-handed attempts at realism where the players don’t seem to know what to do. In an intermittent subplot with a breakdancing village teen and his young sweetheart, the chemistry of the actors comes alive. And in one sequence where we suddenly learn Pedro’s wife is pregnant, there is a hint at some real emotion, when they go to the hospital and he needs to go into town to buy drugs, because the hospital has run out. Even this runs out of dramatic urgency as Pedro plods slowly to the pharmacy – this movie isn’t doing much to relieve our Hispanic brothers and sisters of the stereotype of the sleepy Mexican.
Here are There is divided into chapters: ‘The Return,’ ‘Here,’ ‘The Horizon’ and ‘There.’ But as it mainly consists of characters sitting around in unmoving silence, with happenings unfolding slowly and without context, there’s no dramatic thrust. It’s only through a few mumbled exchanges at the end that the audience really learns Pedro is not making a lot of money in his hometown and must return to America, which is ultimately the only information that gives the rest of the content any point. The flat, drab sheen of the digital photography stops us from even reflecting on the atmosphere of the location, and the only nice visual motif in the picture is Coca-Cola logos looming in the form of ubiquitous bottles, deck chairs and signs, reflecting the influence and pull of the USA on this dusty rural place. When a Coke banner is the most interesting thing in your movie, no es El Norte.