The harsh, relentlessly arduous conditions experienced by children toiling in the Mexican countryside are observed with striking vision and cinematic poetry by filmmaker Eugenio Polgovsky in “The Inheritors.” Though this new doc is a natural extension of his highly regarded debut, “Tropic of Cancer,” especially in its intimate view of Mexico’s poorest of the poor, it’s also a leap forward in technique and powered by a stronger emotional pull. A tour of some of the world’s top fests and strong critical support should land the pic in a prestige spot for tube and vid sales.
Trusting in images, natural sound and a fine, rhythmic sense of editing to tell his story, Polgovsky (along with sound recordist Camille Tauss) spent three years with subsistence farmers in the Mexican states of Guerrero, Nayarit, Oaxaca, Sinaloa, Puebla and Veracruz. Rejecting a pity-the-poor perspective, his approach relies on a physical, roving DV cam keeping up with the child workers and — like in “Tropic of Cancer,” though with a far better video image results — watching them so closely that the viewer can feel their exertion. An angry sense of injustice is never insisted upon; instead, it emerges organically, like the harvested crops themselves, from the film’s material.
Gone are any of the standard explanatory graphic cards, voiceover intros or music cues designed to push emotional buttons, making “The Inheritors” part of an enthralling global trend in nonfiction films committed to unvarnished realism, treating both auds and subjects respectfully and without condescension.
Early passages may seem randomly sampled, as pic shows goat herders, a truckload of farm workers harvesting chiles, tomatoes and green beans, and other farm activities.
Yet a solid structure does emerge, with each location and sequence meticulously edited, broken up into small sections that are either regularly revisited or stitched together into montages that recall the silent-era Soviet docs of Dziga Vertov. Crucially, Polgovsky never makes the kids’ tough existences into something beautiful for its own sake, even though some of the lushly green hillside settings are gorgeous. Instead, the film trains on the detailed work each child does: the skill demanded to make bricks from scratch, or the right way to use rope to tie a bundle of wood and secure it to a burro.
So mesmerizing is the world Polgovsky homes in on that it may take a while for it to sink in that the child laborers are stuck in sub-Third World conditions, deprived of any education and seemingly condemned to a life of subsistence farming. Title’s meaning draws from this, as well as the underlying point that these conditions are precisely the cause of population flight north of the border.
Camerawork is sharp and extraordinarily nimble in some physically demanding conditions, and provides a fine demonstration of the outstanding picture quality that can now be delivered by small DV cams. Highly selective use of traditional conjunto band music serves to celebrate life rather than to elicit easy sympathy.