In Juan Antonio de la Riva’s latest opus, a strolling singer in Mexico City returns to his village to find out the truth about his famous outlaw brother, Gabriel, aka the “Mountain Hawk.” Nominated for five Ariels, pic’s accomplished saga spinning, complete with slickly choreographed time-lapse passages, struck a chord with home auds. But tale’s oblique slant and insistently elliptical folk heroics might be a harder sell on U.S. side of the border.
De la Riva fails to determine the central axis of his film, which to a certain extent masquerades as a detective story — the reconstruction of a life to figure out a death. Who was Gabriel Nevarez (Juan Angel Esparza)? How did he live and why did he die? Flashbacks to different “versions” of the bandito’s history alternately present him as a Mexican Robin Hood or as a rapist/murderer, but it’s obvious from the first that the larger-than-life Gabriel is more sinned against than sinner. The epic of Gabriel’s daring deeds plays out in full, while the only accounts of his villainy come from highly suspect sources or merely consist of glimpses of the aftermaths of supposed crimes.
Film’s real tension is generated from the relationship of diffident cantante Rosendo (Guillermo Larrea) to the dashing sibling whose life he’s trying to comprehend and, while he’s at it, write a song about. It’s clear that an undercurrent of envy and jealousy taints Rosendo’s relationship to his vivid deceased brother. Rosendo remains stubbornly opaque and colorless, as much of a nonentity as a seeker after truth as he is a singer-songwriter.
Pic’s general lack of focus is not entirely without interest, though — it’s not every actioner that can boast a passive-aggressive point of view.
Technical credits are good; Angel Goded’s subtle time-change lighting shifts, as past and present intersect in the same physical space, are particularly impressive.