Film Review: “Desierto Adentro”

Among the films in the Havana Film Festival New York line up was the New York premiere of director Rodrigo Pla’s morality tale, “Desierto Adentro”:

I wanted so much to like this film–first, because it was made in and about Mexico; second, because the shots were steady and lovely; third, because the plot seemed to have so much promise; and fourth, because the characters–the narrator, in particular–were so interesting.

Yet as it plodded on, each scene became increasingly unbelievable. The sins of the father, for which he was trying to atone, continued to accumulate; as they did, he failed to learn any of the lessons that the consequences of his actions were intended to teach him. Predictably, and in accordance with biblical precedent, the sins of the father were visited on his children–over and over again; they died one by one in needless accidents, all trying to transact repentance on behalf of their father. Eventually, the only child left is the narrator–the most fragile of the children, and the one who was never expected to live. The father, never having overcome his hubris and profoundly flawed interpretations of God’s will, hangs himself from the beams of a church he and his children have spent years building.

There is no happy ending, which is fine, but there’s no growth either. It’s a Mexican tale endowed with a mythic sense of Greek tragedy.

Sometimes the provocation of incredulity works, especially in Latin American cinema, but credibility and faith must either be restored or some other payoff must eventually be rendered.

In the case of “Desierto Adentro,” neither happens. The film may well take a place alongside other contemporary Mexican movies that have been similarly preoccupied with religion, sins, and the theme of taking responsibility for the consequences of breaking moral and social taboos (I’m thinking, for instance, of “The Crimes of Padre Amarro” and “Y Tu Mama, Tambien,”) but if it does so, it will be thanks to the skillful camera work and the raw beauty of the film’s backdrop, not for its script.