Turning their attention to Mexican emigrants’ families south of the border, co-directors Juan Carlos Rulfo and Carlos Hagerman uncover an affecting panorama of humanity in “Those Who Remain.” The film flirts with a sentimentality absent from Rulfo’s brilliant previous doc, “In the Pit,” but it’s never tripped up by it, allowing the long-suffering relatives left behind to speak for themselves, and connecting emotionally by patient observation. Mexican auds on both sides of the border, but especially in the U.S., will spur word of mouth for fests and beyond, though duplicating “In the Pit’s” Stateside release may be a longshot.
Docu’s timing is arguably less than ideal, since one of the unexpected fallouts from the global recession is a reverse migration back to Mexico from shrinking job opportunities in El Norte. The pic also arrives at a moment when news from Mexico is dominated by the bloody and grinding drug cartel war. But Rulfo and Hagerman look at a Mexico not dependent on headlines — and their camera, not unlike Raymond Depardon’s observations of vanishing French farming life, reveals vulnerable people caught up in changing times, yearning for loved ones, unsure what to do next.
From the opening passage in a grade-school classroom in Jalisco state, where the kids believe American streets are paved with gold, there’s both a sense of fantasy about “the other side” and a sadness about the ways things have gone in Mexico. As with “In the Pit,” an underlying love of country is buffeted by a rush of anger at conditions that have been allowed to persist.
The majority of the screen time is spent with contrasting couples and individuals, offering up a real national panorama. Marisela juggles her several kids, helped by eldest daughter Evelyn, while trying to devise a way to go as a group to the U.S. to rejoin her husband, who’s been abroad for years. Meanwhile, Gerardo’s desire to leave his dying town in Michaocan state to get work in the U.S. is driving a wedge between him and his wife Gloria. And elderly rural couple Pascual and Juanita patiently wait for their grown children, Marcos, Sergio and Flor, to return from an eight-year stint in the States — and their wait, to the filmmakers’ enormous good luck, pays off.
There’s also Zacatecas horseman Francisco, who, like someone out of a Budd Boetticher film, adds a different flavor to the doc, proudly and happily staying while most of his compadres long ago split north. As his own cameraman, Rulfo drinks up the tough starkness of Francisco’s ranch and the rocky outcroppings of a promontory where he can watch eagles. It’s easy to see why he’s remained.
Raquel, a young widow living in tropical Chiapas, is the clearest victim of mass immigration’s cost — her husband was brutally murdered while working in the U.S. The pic allows the unstated question to linger: When will Mexican conditions change, allowing working families to remain intact?
Pic is handsome in every aspect, from soundtrack (with choice tracks by Cafe Tacuba) to sharp vid lensing.