Aquí y allá: rekindling family ties
by Fabien Lemercier
22/05/2012 - Even if cinema can erase borders, as Spanish filmmaker Antonio Méndez Esparza has shown by filming Aquí y allá [trailer] (lit. “Here and over there”) in Mexico, the realities of economic migration continue to create dissociated worlds, separated families, and problematics often explored by artists. But Méndez Esparza’s first film, today screened in the Critics’ Week competition at the 65th Cannes Film Festival, adopts a relatively new angle, and one very different from what has become the traditional urban Mexican film or its equivalent cinematic tale of a border crossing in search of the American Dream.
Aquí y allá is about Pedro, a man who has been sending money home to his family for several years, returning home to his small mountain village in Mexico. He returns to his wife and two daughters, Heidi and Lorena (who are about eight and 13 years old), but time and distance have taken their toll. He is like a stranger ("Everything has changed, I can barely recognise the house!”) and he will have to win his relatives over again (as well as his wife who prefers to sleep in their bed with all her clothes on). Pedro is also a semi professional musician, and he tries to set up a local band, starting to rehearse. Little by little, he gently manages to regain his wife’s evaporated trust ("I felt that you had someone over there, a girlfriend. I had doubts.”) and rekindle his daughters’ affection (more easily done with his youngest than with the older adolescent daughter). To this phase called The Return succeeds the phase called Aquí (lit. “Here”), with the very complicated birth of a third daughter and a narrow brush with death. It’s the occasion to discover the Mexican health system, in which one has to go out to buy prescribed medicine to bring it back to the hospital, but also call up friends for blood donations so as not to be charged for the missing donations. Money starts to be an issue, and Pedro sleeps in the street on a cardboard box, not far from the hospital. The next phase, called Horizon, shows a happy united family, but Pedro is increasingly worried: His band breaks up and he is finding it increasingly hard to find construction work in the nearest town. Inexorably, the story comes full circle, as Pedro once again leaves to go back allá (lit. “over there”) to support his family and ensure they have a future.
Through beautiful, often fixed shots, perfectly capturing the nuances in faces and the beauty of landscapes, Aquí y allá is a promising first film that calmly and delicately (attention and patience required) addresses the universal subject of family, to the backdrop of these rural regions of Mexico where economic exile is often the only way out. With performances by amateur actors practically all playing their own roles, the film demonstrates beautiful mastery of detail, and Antonio Méndez Esparza very cleverly uses the main character (the brilliant and introspective Pedro De los Santos Juárez)’s music to accompany the story and shed light of the film’s meaning, as with the words of one song: "I don’t like being poor, much less being rich, what I like is being simple.”