Despite sometimes heavyhanded efforts to tug at audience heart-strings, debutant Mexican helmer Tin Dirdamal’s “No One” reps a moving portrait of Central American immigrants passing through Mexico to El Norte in search of a better life. Central American subjects interviewed recount appalling tales of beatings and worse encountered en route from gangsters and police, but still cherish fragile hopes for the future. Slickly assembled but ultimately televisual package doesn’t break new ground, but will put a human face on familiar statistics at further fests and liberally inclined cablers, and make Dirdamal a talent to watch.
Occasional stylishly designed subtitles lay out the brutal facts: Fifty-six percent of Central America’s population lives below the poverty line, 145,000 migrants are caught and sent back by Mexican immigration authorities every year, and so forth. The sources for these statistics are not revealed, but it’s not hard to believe their veracity.
However, pic draws on emotion rather than polemic to make its point, via individual stories of migrants encountered at a shelter in the town of Orizaba, Veracruz, Mexico.
Middle-aged Maria Ponce was so distraught she couldn’t say goodbye to her four children and sick husband Antonio when she left Honduras. A horrific ordeal she experienced on her way to Mexico at the hands of the Mara Salvatrucha, a violent criminal organization that preys on migrants, is only revealed near the end.
Others have more visible scars and injuries. Middle-schooler Jose Medina lost an arm while trying to board a train to get to the U.S. Jose Maria Salvador has a machete wound across his stomach that he can’t afford to get treated. In a rapid-fire montage, assorted interviewees name the Mexican police, “thieves with permits” as one man calls them, as some of the biggest threats to migrants’ personal safety.
Thankfully, it’s not all misery on show here. Helmer Dirdamal meets the women from the city of Cordoba who pass food and water to those riding the rails through their town.
Images of such nobility and suffering should get waterworks flowing for empathic auds, but more critical viewers may irked by film’s relentless use of soulful folk music and plangent piano and guitar chords courtesy of composer Alfonso M. Ruibal to underscore action shown. Similarly, Dirdamal shows a commercial or pop video director’s touch in his use of tricky montage, slo-mo, and freeze frames to add aesthetic spice. Such fancy visual footwork, however, may make pic more accessible to younger, compassion fatigued auds.
For the record, pic’s original title is given as “Denadie” in the Intl. Documentary Festival Amsterdam catalog, but looks more like “De Nadie,” the two words abutted together by the graphic design, on screen.