A probing, unflinching look at the lives of some of the estimated 20,000 Mexican children who have run away from home to survive on the streets of the capital city, this simple but well-constructed docu is likely to serve mainly as a tool for raising social awareness, with minimal commercial prospects.
According to New York-based filmmaker Eva Aridjis, it has already been viewed by the president of Mexico and various others in the government. It has also been nominated twice for Mexico’s top film awards, the Arieles, as best documentary and best first feature.
The children are at first observed from a wordless distance as they go about their lives, which tend to revolve around begging and the use of a PCP-derivative they call activo, which is inhaled like glue and causes mild hallucinations.
The filmmaker then zeroes in on four poignant lives, including Marcos, a cheerful, bright-eyed 11-year-old who has run the streets since age 5, and Erika, a beautiful and boyish 18-year-old who reports she was raped and badly beaten, then raped again by the policemen to whom she reported the crime.
Most memorable, perhaps, is a handsome, proud teen named Juan, who gets around on crutches after having an operation, paid for by a stranger, to amputate his cancer-ravaged leg. Told by the surgeon that the disease had advanced to his lungs, he bravely insists he doesn’t believe her. Next time we see him, he’s complaining to paramedics he can’t breathe, and later, we find him emaciated, his face swollen with the cancer that is eating him alive. Before the film is over, he finally, returns home.
The filmmaker questions the usually forthcoming youths insistently about their home lives and reasons for leaving, and holds the camera on them for long, unbroken takes.
The docu takes an interesting turn when she brings two of the children home to their families for Christmas, and we get to see the situations they fled from. The family of Marcos dwells in a windowless cement hovel, where the sweet but passive, illiterate mother is terrorized by her alcoholic husband. By contrast, Erika’s divorced mom seems loving and encouraging, and tries hard to instill a work ethic, but is unable to keep her wayward girl from wandering.
Shot on a Sony PD 150 mini-DV camera, during two months spent with its subjects in late 2001, the docu has a low-res look and unfolds at a rather slow but haunting pace. It seems clumsy only when it lingers, long after its point has been made, on a segment about street evangelists who feed and pray for the children. For the most part, pic is a memorable and effective portrait of human misfortune and resilience.