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A chance encounter in a hospital reduces a Mexican woman to the de facto nurse of her increasingly erratic ex-b.f. in “Inertia,” an impressive debut feature from Isabel Munoz Cota Callejas. Though this is essentially a hospital-set chamber drama, the promising frosh helmer not only coaxes great perfs from leads Flavio Medina and ace newcomer Maricela Penalosa, but also manages to infuse the somewhat claustrophobic story — which has a few clever narrative twists up its sleeve — with a real sense of space. Sprocket operas looking to showcase new and/or distaff talent should move in quick.

Callejas opens with a shot establishing that everything might not be what it seems, as the camera moves ominously backward from the sliding doors of a Mexico City hospital entrance before panning sideways through a waiting area and finally moving in on Lucia (Penalosa), who’s waiting for her friend Bruno (Mauricio Isaac), who has broken a toe.

At the clinic, Lucia runs into Felipe (Medina), and it emerges they used to be an item but haven’t seen each other in 12 years. She seems happy to reconnect with her former beau, and thinks nothing of telling her boss her mother’s been taken ill so she can look after Felipe for a couple of days.

The sharp screenplay, co-written by the helmer and Claudia Sainte-Luce, soon makes it clear that the handsome and manly man — think a Mexican Clive Owen — does need someone to look after him, and not only because of his kidney problems. Felipe’s behavior quickly grows more unpredictable, as he experiences momentary disorientation, acts violently toward hospital personnel and begs for Lucia like a 5-year-old screaming for his mother when his tummy hurts. Soon the nurses are simply delegating every task to Lucia, the only person who can still convince Felipe to do anything at all.

On the one hand, it feels as if Lucia, having experienced the beginning of her liaison with Felipe, is making up for lost time by settling for what feels like the end, with him totally dependent on her as if they’re in their “Amour” days. On the other hand, auds might start to wonder — as the ill man’s behavior becomes pretty much untenable — whether Lucia isn’t more ill than he is, suffering from a severe case of lovesickness.

Impressively, especially given the relative inexperience of not only the director but also Penalosa, the two lead thesps are perfectly in tune with the characters’ no-holds-barred impulses and emotions as well as the underlying ambiguity of the material. This pays off in the film’s final reels, when several revelations cast what’s come before in a somewhat different light.

Shooting in 35mm, d.p. Miguel Angel Garcia establishes a striking sense of space that allows the characters to develop in relation to one another, even though most of the action is set in a single hospital room. Production designer Oscar Tello keeps the clinic’s interiors in the same dull blues and grays as the cityscape seen through the window, and the costumes are likewise telling in their use of color, such as when Lucia wears a surprising splash of red at a key moment. The clarinet-infused score is generally wistful, though, like the camerawork, it occasionally becomes more agitated to suggest the characters’ emotional states.


Reviewed at Guadalajara Film Festival (Premio Mezcal), March 4, 2013. Running time: 98 MIN.

A CCC, Foprocine, Imcine production. Produced by Henner Hofmann, Liliana Pardo, Karla Bukantz.

Directed by Isabel Munoz Cota Callejas. Screenplay, Munoz Cota Callejas, Claudia Sainte-Luce. Camera (color, Panavision widescreen), Miguel Angel Garcia; editors, Francisco X. Rivera, Ana Castro; music, Tomas Barreiro; production designer, Oscar Tello; costume designer, Gabriela Fernandez; sound (Dolby SRD), Paulina Rosas; casting, Alejandro Reza.

With: Maricela Penalosa, Flavio Medina, Mauricio Isaac, Veronica Langer.