Allow me to begin this review with the same statistic that Tierra Caliente – the new film directed by Laura Plancarte – begins with: since 2006 more than seventy thousand people have been killed in Mexico due to the ongoing drug war between the government and the drug gangs known as Narcos. That’s a shocking statistic, but like all statistics, it doesn’t acknowledge the personal effect the such events have on people involved.
This is where Tierra Caliente comes in. An entirely true story, the film follows the story of one of those seventy thousand families who have had to deal with such tragedy. Actors and actresses play the family, but the script is real – pieced together from two years of actual transcripts recorded of the family discussing the events and bristling with the pain and despair that could only exist in such an organic source.
The performances of the cast are strong and packed with the same emotion. Dimitri Andreas as the father particularly stands out as he brilliantly portrays a parent and grandparent who has to hold an entire family together at its lowest point. If Tierra Caliente’s strength lies in the cast and the script though, then it’s weakness lies in the cinematography. As a visual experience, it is quite mundane and at times even boring. We see the family go to work, wash their clothes, scramble their eggs, and play their board games. I felt like I could have gained the same experience from just plonking a camera down in my kitchen and then watching the footage. In fact, had it not been for a prior chat that me and my housemates had where they made it clear that filming them without their knowledge was ‘unacceptable’ and ‘weird’, I may have done exactly that.
Don’t get me wrong, I see the reasoning behind such an artistic choice, and I realise that this is one of the main plot points. This is an incredibly personal story, ignoring impersonal and broad statistics and showing how the lives of the individual family – although shaken to the core – had to go on. Chores had to be completed, income had to be earned, snakes had to inexplicably climb ladders. I just feel that the film got slightly carried away with that idea and became less of a true account of a family dealing with such an injustice, and more an episode of Big Brother Live where we watch Pete from Essex do the washing up for an hour.
All of its strengths and weaknesses aside though, I would recommend this film to people based purely on its authenticity. There are no artistic licenses taken here; this is a true story. The use of actual recordings and real news reports from the time, assisted by emotional performances from the cast drive home that fact. Tierra Caliente has succeeded in personalising what is a horrifyingly everyday occurrence and it reminds us that there are always real people behind the statistics. For that fact alone, it is worth viewing.
3 / 5
Dir: Laura Plancarte
Scr: Laura Plancarte
Starring: Anais Alvarado, Dimitri Andreas, Claudia Coulter
Prd: Ellis Freeman, Mike Lerner, Laura Plancarte, Luke Schiller, Enrrique Arroyo Schroeder
DOP: Eben Bolter, Richard Gillespie
Music: David M. Saunders
Run time: 80 mins
Tierra Caliente screened at Raindance Film Festival on Wednesday 30 September and Sunday 4 October.