The formal rigour of its aesthetics and its slow cinema approach are at times haunting, capturing the traces of presence, disappearance and trauma in Mexico’s crime-infested rural areas, though it ultimately feels like an elusive experience without any inkling of a plot to hold on to.
Cast: Francisco Berdiales, Reina Carmona, Yaretzi Cazares
Plot: Isabel is in the middle of divorce proceedings. She moves into an old mansion once owned by her family. When the sister of Isabel’s co-worker Marta disappears without a trace, police chief Roberta starts investigating the case.
Awards: Won Silver Bear – Jury Prize (Berlinale)
International Sales: Visit Films
Subject Matter: Moderate – Tragedy and Violence
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex – Elusive
Pace: Very Slow
Audience Type: General Arthouse
In the tradition of Mexican arthouse slow cinema, Robe of Gems is the debut feature of Natalia Lopez, who is best known as an accomplished editor for Carlos Reygadas (also her husband) and Amat Escalante in films such as Silent Night (2007) and Heli (2013) respectively.
It is of no surprise that she also edited her own film, which despite winning the Jury Prize at the Berlinale may appear challenging even for seasoned arthouse audiences.
The plot is nearly non-existent, but the depiction of its milieu is strong, and it is through this milieu that we are asked to try to make sense of the elusive narrative.
The setting is rural Mexico, where crime and corruption are rampant, yet Lopez doesn’t seem interested in giving them any attention; instead, she is much more focused on the peripheral.
“I’d say any place is a good place to die.”
By shadowing a few jaded women, particularly a soon-to-be-retiring policewoman, an apprehensive housemaid and a woman with marital problems, Lopez trains her camera on the traces of presence, absence (people disappear frequently in this part of town) and trauma, be it in the spare interiors of houses or the wide-open spaces.
Although the pacing is as slow as a Tsai Ming-liang film, Robe of Gems boasts a potent visual style. Its aesthetics possesses a formal rigour that gives the film a haunting feeling.
It may prove rewarding for audiences with the right amount of patience, but without any inkling of a plot to hold on to, it is not easy to be engaged.