'Drought'

A northern Mexican cattle-ranching community desperately holds on for survival amid brutal weather conditions in documaker Everardo Gonzalez's "Drought," which begs comparisons with "The Tiniest Place," Tatiana Huezo's similarly poetic portrait of a town withstanding terrible hardships.

A northern Mexican cattle-ranching community desperately holds on for survival amid brutal weather conditions in documaker Everardo Gonzalez’s “Drought,” which begs comparisons with “The Tiniest Place,” Tatiana Huezo’s similarly poetic portrait of a town withstanding terrible hardships. While not in the same class as that earlier film, “Drought” nevertheless ranks with the best of recent Latin American nonfiction. The contrast between everyday activities and epic natural elements makes for a powerful cinematic mix ideal for festivals and select vid buys.

Opening credits sequence during a nighttime deer hunt suggests the townspeople’s connections to the land as well as their near-primitive conditions, confirmed by a subsequent sequence that follows a city-slicker census-taker as he goes door to door and writes down stats that attest to the village’s dire poverty.

But Gonzalez isn’t interested in crafting a study in Mexican miserablism. At the heart of the community of Cuates de Australia (a town name whose origins no local seems able to explain) is the cattle business, and the docu contains some beautiful passages capturing the work and life of real-life cowboys. Their livelihood is threatened by an ongoing, years-long drought, as they live in a veritable dustbowl with ever-shrinking sources of water.

The film regularly jumps from an examination of the town’s dire situation to the various human stories involving residents (none of whom are identified), including a young couple enduring a difficult childbirth, men using divining rods in the desert, and schoolboys comically feuding over a girl. The effect of this structure, crafted with editors Felipe Gomez and Clementina Mantellini, is to draw viewers into the individual storylines, then complicate them with the problems brought on by the drought.

Pic’s development raises questions about the chronology of events; one suspects that scenes have been rearranged to leave viewers with the impression that the problems besetting the people of Cuates de Australia are behind them, when such is likely not the case. This tends to soften what could have been a harsher and more uncompromising if far less commercially viable chronicle of a community on the edge. Left unstated in this portrait is the underlying state of affairs in northern Mexico, beset with not only terrible drought but also warring drug cartels.

In a fine documentary tradition stemming back to Joris Ivens and Jean Rouch, Gonzalez is his own excellent cinematographer (working with Eduardo Herrera), adept at capturing intimate human exchanges, massive landscapes and the grisly realities of nature at its roughest.

Drought

Mexico

Production

A Cienega Docs and Foprocine presentation. (International sales: Deckert Distribution, Leipzig, Germany.) Produced by Martha Orozco. Directed by Everardo Gonzalez.

Crew

Camera (Deluxe color), Gonzalez, Eduardo Herrera; editors, Felipe Gomez, Clementina Mantellini; music, Cantos Cardenches; sound (Dolby Digital), Pablo Tamez; sound designer, Matias Barberis; re-recording mixer, Jaime Baksht. Reviewed at Guadalajara Film Festival (competing), March 6, 2012. (Also in Thessaloniki Documentary Film Festival, 2011 Intl. Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam.) Running time: 84 MIN.
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