The day of the dead on a daily basis in “Without any particular sign”

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The first scene must have taken place thousands of times in Mexico: deep in a poor countryside, a teenager comes to tell his mother that he is going to try his luck in the United States. Accompanied by his friend Rigo, Jesus takes the road that leads to Arizona, and does not give any sign of life. Two months later, the worried mothers go to question the authorities. They consult thick volumes full of legal identity photos. Among all the fallen muchachos, they find Rigo, but not Jesus.

Fixing the lens of her dark eyes, Magdalena personifies pain. To follow the trail of Jesus, this “Mexican citizen, single, without telephone, 48 years old”, enters the Kafkaesque maze of administration, marked by fatalism and anxiety. The mortuary preserves corpses that putrefaction has rendered unidentifiable. It is whispered that buses have been attacked and their occupants massacred … Magdalena refuses to admit the death of her son.

A second story is grafted onto the first. An underground worker for five years in the United States, the young Miguel was arrested. He is escorted back to the border. He returns to Ocampo, the hamlet where his mother is waiting for him. In a dusty evening, his path crosses that of Magdalena. They will take a stretch of road together through no man’s land where death and fear reign. They will find an empty house and dead sheep.

Spiral of hell

Fernanda Valadez, who signs her first feature film, began by studying philosophy. She turned away from these abstractions to approach human emotions through fiction. She found inspiration from Without special sign in the violence that cyclically convulses his country: 17 migrants murdered near the Texas border, young boys kidnapped in their villages and executed by soldiers… “The metaphorical nature of this infernal spiral questioned me. I believe it reveals what we Mexicans are in the midst of this chaos, ”she said. To celebrate the struggle of women and mothers, “the first to have had the strength and the conviction to go in search of the missing”, the director has surrounded herself with a team with an absolute female majority.

Because he adopts a slow pace and a poetic point of view, Without particular sign takes the time to reveal its thriller nature. Thrifty in contrechaps, Fernanda Valadez favors long focal lengths, close-ups, off-frames, characters seen from behind… These figures of speech effectively suggest feelings of loneliness, fragility, as well as the myopia of institutions and history. When a friend drives Magdalena to the border to investigate, all we see of her is a silhouette in front of a blurry galaxy shimmering in countless colors: these are the traffic lights of cars in giant parking lots on the American border. Mexican.

Initiatory journey

Slowly the plan widens. Stifling naturalism fades behind magical realism. We slip from the world of the Dardenne brothers to that of Carlos Reygadas. Zooming out on a lake landscape opens up a dreamlike dimension by upsetting the notions of high and low, sky and earth, branches and roots, objects and reflections. In a world where action is the sister of dreams, a squadron attacks at night. Assassins communicate non-verbally, hissing like birds of prey.

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Magdalena’s quest goes through a staggering twist that makes the initiatory journey a descent into hell. Flashbacks return to the attack on the buses, the stripping of the passengers and their killing. It is a pandemonium of cries of hatred and fear, a ballet of shadows in a fiery night. A throbbing blind spot in the heart of a great fire that would not spoil Lynch’s work. This “Fire Walk With Me” reveals the attributes of the Dark Lord – who found in Mexico a beautiful playground…

Awarded in Zurich and Sundance, distributed in Switzerland by Trigon-film, Without particular sign can be viewed on from February 18.

Without any particular sign (Sin señas particulares), by Fernanda Valadez (Mexico, 2020), with Mercedes Hernández, David Illescas, Juan Jesús Varela, 1h37.