Review: ‘Elisa … Before the End of the World’

Winner of the audience prize at the Guadalajara Film Festival, "Elisa ... Before the End of the World" is a strange concoction of precious child acting, social commentary, violent thriller and literary metaphor. The metaphor here is the cockroach, which stands in for Mexico's current economic woes. Pic's intense preoccupation with, and bizarre presentation of, contempo life in Mexico City will strictly limit this to local consumption. Elisa, played by 10-year-old Guadalajara native Sherlyn Montserrat, is the only child of parents whose marriage is unraveling on account of financial problems; they may lose their car, and even their expensive co-op apartment. Elisa takes at face value her father's comment, "If we get close to the end of the world, we'll have nothing to eat but roaches," so the precocious, and way too cute, child begins collecting them to breed --- and to lick.

Elisa enlists the aid of even cuter child Miguel (Imanol Goenaga), whose well-off parents don’t want him hanging around such a strange girl, to help with her cockroach collection, her odd idea of staving off economic ruin. When cocky young Paco (Ruben Rojo Aura), a local hood, enters the picture and the young kids’ lives, the movie’s light tone changes. Paco, who cleverly hangs out in their building in order to poach chickens from the roof, suggests that they use a gun he has to commit a robbery, but Elisa and Miguel endear themselves to the audience by robbing a toy store — not of money, but of skates.

Things get darker quickly. Elisa decides it’s time to rob a bank, and none other than the one whose representative, Mr. Gomez (Carlos Torres Torija), is hounding her father (Dino Garcia) for payments. At this point, the movie becomes a violent heist picture in which blood and guts are spilled without thought to narrative logic — as if “Heidi” became a John Woo film. It’s an appalling breach of audience trust.

Tech credits are fine, except for show-offy camera work; some of the scenes involving rapid camera movement are not even edited together in a coherent fashion. Excessive violence against children prevents this from being marketed as a kiddie pic.

Elisa ... Before the End of the World

Mexican

Production

A Televicine production. (International sales: Marcela Green, Televicine, Mexico City.) Produced by Roberto Gomez Bolanos. Directed by Juan Antonio de la Riva. Screenplay, Paula Markovitch.

Crew

Camera (color), Arturo de la Rosa; editor, Oscar Figueroa; music, Oscar Reynoso; art direction, Angeles Martinez; costumes, Macarena Folache; sound, Miguel Sandoval; special effects, Alejandro Vazquez. Reviewed at Guadalajara Film Festival (competing), March 18, 1997. Running time: 80 MIN.

With

Elisa ..... Sherlyn Montserrat Miguel..... Imanol Goenaga Paco ..... Ruben Rojo Aura Elisa's Mother..... Susana Zabaleta Elisa's Father ..... Dino Garcia Miguel's Mother ..... Claudia Goitia Miguel's Father .....Jorge Antolin Mr. Gomez ..... Carlos Torres Torija
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