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The Path

Two hapless Nicaraguan children set out on a journey to find their mother across the border in Costa Rica in "The Path."

With: Sherlin Paola Velasquez, Marcos Ulises Jimenez, Jean Francois Stevenin, Juan Josue Borda, Cornelio Flores Meza, Morena Guadalupe. (Spanish dialogue)

Two hapless Nicaraguan children set out on a journey to find their mother across the border in Costa Rica in “The Path,” an impressively assembled feature debut for Chilean-Iraqi helmer Ishtar Yasin. Although the story draws attention to the hardships wrought by economic migration, dreamlike imagery and unsettling use of music and sound combine to make this something more than a mere polemic. Fest programmers may beat a path to pic’s door, with possible niche release prospects further down the road.

Twelve-year-old Saslaya (Sherlin Paola Velasquez) lives in Acahualinca, a rural district of Nicaragua, with her mute younger brother Dario (Marcos Ulises Jimenez) and their grandfather (Cornelio Flores Meza). The kids’ mother left for Costa Rica eight years ago in search of employment, but hasn’t been heard from since.

Given that Saslaya’s life consists of attending school in the morning, foraging in the local dump in the afternoon and being the victim of her grandfather’s incestuous abuse at night, she understandably decides to go look for her mother, persuading Dario to come with.

Rest of the pic records their journey, a dark, picaresque adventure through cities, swamps and lakes by bus and boat, but mostly on foot. Along the way, they meet a sinister puppeteer (august Gallic thesp Jean Francois Stevenin); a young homeless boy (Juan Josue Borda) who heartbreakingly begs the kids to stay with him; and assorted other migrants, including two near-comic figures seen throughout, carrying only an antique table between them.

“The Path” apparently grew out of “La mesa feliz,” a short docu helmer Yasin made previously about Nicaraguan migrants in Costa Rica; young leads here are played by children who, per director’s statement, “were chosen by their life stories and experiences.”

However, pic never preaches or gets heavy-handed about the tragedies these people endure. Indeed, a very Latin American streak of fatalism runs through it; when almost the worst thing imaginable befalls Saslaya at the end, she seems to shrug it off and goes on to scream with delight during her first fairground ride.

Beautifully lensed on HD and sensitively transferred to celluloid, pic captures the bewitching beauty of the journey’s landscape. Long, slow tracking shots and an ineffable air of mystery bespeaks the influence of Russian cinema as much as Latin American (helmer trained at the Russian State Institute of Cinematography in Moscow).

The Path

Costa Rica-France

Production: A Producciones Astarte, Gadeon Programmes Francia production. (International sales: Wide Management, Paris.) Produced by Ishtar Yasin. Executive producer, Adrian Cruz. Co-producer, Luis Javier Castro. Directed, written by Ishtar Yasin.

Crew: Camera (color, HD-to-35mm), Jacques Loiseleux; editor, Valerie Loiseleux; music, Ulpiano Duarte; art directors, Victor Canifru, Roberto Lizaon; costume designers, Jose Mendez, Maria Ines Pijuan; sound (Dolby Digital), Luis Fuentes Luna. Reviewed on DVD, Hoveton, U.K., March 3, 2008. (In Berlin Film Festival -- Forum.) Running time: 91 MIN.

With: With: Sherlin Paola Velasquez, Marcos Ulises Jimenez, Jean Francois Stevenin, Juan Josue Borda, Cornelio Flores Meza, Morena Guadalupe. (Spanish dialogue)

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