A potent, well-crafted drama about the oppression of Indian minorities in Mexico, “To and Fro” reps an assured feature debut for director and co-scenarist Salvador Aguirre. Given a leading character who’s returned from three years as a “wetback” laborer in California, downbeat but engrossing effort could draw limited arthouse play Stateside and in other select territories.
Strapping young Filiberto (Gerardo Taracena) has driven his truck back home, only to find things drastically changed in the village of his birth. Having made no effort at communication during his long absence, he finds his mother has passed on; so has the boss at the hacienda where they toiled, leaving his callous son in charge. Latter is using brutal means to chase away the Indians whose property encompasses the all-important local water supply. His first night, Fili witnesses the murder of the father of a childhood friend, Luis (Ricardo Esquerra). The funeral is hardly over when hired goons arrive to torch Luis’ house; he, wife Soledad (Tiare Scanda) and their baby narrowly escape with Fili, who drives them to temporary safety.
The two men go on to Mexico City, hoping to find documents that will confirm Luis’ land rights. But corruption is rife — government officials send them on a paper chase that dead-ends in the demand for a large bribe — and the only work they can find is trafficking stolen goods. Meanwhile, tensions between Fili and Luis — former resents the latter for marrying his one-time fiancee, Soledad — build toward an angry parting.
Soon broke, homeless and unemployed, Fili goes crawling back to the hacienda, where he’s forced to join a posse hunting down Luis, who’s determined to claim his family’s land at whatever risk. Nail-biting finale has Luis, wife and child stalked by armed vigilantes in the cornfields, with Fili uneasily straddling both sides. Aguirre lets tale unfold at a brisk, steady pace, eschewing melodrama in favor of a dispassionate yet sympathetic p.o.v. Naturalistic perfs are strong, tech aspects high-grade; Geronimo Denti’s muted color lensing captures the beauty of rural landscapes as an ironic counterpoint to story’s grim events. Impact is heightened by minimal use of background music.