Review: ‘Letters to Elena’

Like a cook who never knows when to stop adding the sugar or salt, writer-director Martin Barajas-Lloren't drowns his rural Mexican fable, "Letters to Elena," in enough cutesiness and melodrama for a dozen movies.

Like a cook who never knows when to stop adding the sugar or salt, writer-director Martin Barajas-Lloren’t drowns his rural Mexican fable, “Letters to Elena,” in enough cutesiness and melodrama for a dozen movies. Pic’s depiction of a lad’s efforts to lift spirits in his farming community takes its cues from old-fashioned filmmaking modes and corny TV commercials, grounded in the insulting notion that poor folk are either innocent angels or beasts out for blood. Limited U.S. run will be brief, with ancillary looking brighter.

Near Copper Canyon in Chihuahua, Mexico, orphan Emilio (newcomer Jose Eduardo) helps old Teo (Jorge Galvan) deliver the mail, a job that includes reading letters from their younger relatives struggling Stateside. An increasingly ridiculous clash with volatile Soto (Jaime Jimenez Pons) — who’s certain that Emilio is a thief — and the boy’s fondness for pretty Elena (Gatilla) set up the story’s emotional poles. But the movie’s desperate attempts to press these emotions becomes its undoing, as it falls back on extreme tonal shifts, a weakness for touch-feely closeups and Edin Solis’ syrupy score. Vet-filled cast overacts to a fare-thee-well.

Letters to Elena

Mexico-U.S.

Production

A Freestyle Releasing (in U.S.) release of a Promedios and Bonito Skinny Studios production. Produced by Jaime Jimenez Pons, Peter J. Odio, Martin Barajas-Lloren't. Executive producers, Odio, Sergio Cabada, Arturo Munoz, Michael G. Martiniez. Directed, written by Martin Barajas-Lloren't.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Carmen Cabana; editor, Serpiente Viento; music, Edin Solis; production designers, Marcela Islas, Patricia Barajas; costume designers, Alicia Padilla, Claudia Talavera. Reviewed at Laemmle NoHo 7, North Hollywood, June 9, 2012. (In 2011 Guadalajara, New York Latino film festivals.) MPAA Rating: PG. Running time: 115 MIN.

With

Jose Eduardo, Jaime Jimenez Pons, Carmen Salinas, Irma Dorantes, Xavier Lopez, Jorge Galvan, Lorena Velazquez, Ana Luisa Peluffo, Elsa Cardenas, Sara Montes, Hugo Macias Macotela, Evangelina Sosa, Roberto Sosa, Paul Mendoza, Gatilla. (Spanish, English dialogue)

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