Review: La Civil
- CANNES 2021: Teodora Ana Mihai makes her mark with a thrilling first feature about a mother relentlessly looking for her kidnapped daughter in a ruthless Mexico
“It’s been like this for a long time, with this constant fear that they’ll appear. And there are so many of them, never the same ones.” In Mexico, the criminal spider web of the cartels in unfortunately an unavoidable reality and cinema has repeatedly seized on the subject in various forms (from Amat Escalante to Gerardo Naranjo via Denis Villeneuve, to name just a few examples from recent years on the Croisette). But this time, with La Civil [+see also:
interview: Teodora Ana Mihai
film profile], discovered in the Un Certain Regard programme of the 74th Cannes FIlm Festival, it’s a European director, the Belgian-Romanian Teodora Ana Mihai, who has delved (with the great help of her co-screenwriter Habacuc Antonio de Rosario) into the Mexican cauldron, with an everyday female heroine, a mother like so many others, a simple and modest woman whose trajectory draws in reflection the portrait of an entire country and of a society paralysed by violence, where the living and the dead end up almost resembling each other.
“I just want to find my daughter.” It’s a real mantra, sometimes a desperate plea, but soon an absolute determination that Cielo (the extraordinary Arcelia Ramirez who carries the whole film on her shoulders) repeats throughout her quest. Out for an evening supposedly with her boyfriend, her daughter Laura disappears and the next day, Cielo’s car is intercepted in the middle of the street and two very relaxed young men demand a ransom of 150 000 pesos (around 6400 euros) and the pick-up truck of the father, Gustavo (Alvarro Guerrero), who has deserted the marital home: “otherwise, you will never see her again.” Cielo and her cheating husband (who is also very selfish and rather cowardly) painfully gather the money, then complete it through very worrying rendez-vous (machine guns appear) and agonising waits, but the kidnappers vanish into the wild. Refusing to give up, Cielo starts knocking on every door (the police, the morgue, etc.) without getting any help. She then decides to lead her own investigation, a bit at random, putting herself in danger and meeting a military unit led by lieutenant Lamarque (Jorge A. Jimenez) with whom she sinks even deeper into the innards of a bloody criminality that plagues the social fabric.
Extremely well written (with its increasingly relentless levels of discovery, with suspicions and revelations as so many bad surprises), La Civil takes all the time it rightly needs to accompany the evolution of Cielo’s perception of the situation, the spectator being, at each step, exactly at the same level of ignorance as this courageous mother determined to dig by any means necessary to know the truth. The talent of Romanian director of photography Marius Panduru adds to this very mature first feature offering an excellent balance between psychological portrait, action film (bullets fly at regular intervals) and citizen work of denunciation and call for individual empowerment to fight against the criminal taking hostage of an entire country.
(Translated from French)
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