The Venezuelan director’s sophomore fiction feature is so unrushed and assured that one immediately feels at ease immersing in a solid narrative about mistaken identity and the plight—and fate—of migrant workers in Mexico.
Cast: Hernan Mendoza, Hatzin Oscar Navarrete
Plot: The story of a young boy on a mission to collect what he believes to be his father’s remains only to get sucked into the underbelly of the migrant industry in Mexico.
Awards: Nom. for Golden Lion (Venice)
International Sales: The Match Factory
Subject Matter: Moderate – ‘Fathers & Sons’; Surrogates; Illegal Migrants
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: General Arthouse
Lorenzo Vigas had the good fortune of winning the Venice Golden Lion with his debut feature, From Afar (2015), a restrained and elliptical gay drama that I co-programmed for the Love and Pride Film Festival in Singapore several years ago. With The Box, his sophomore fiction feature, which I think is even better, he shows us that his calm and assured filmmaking style is no fluke.
There is such an unrushed quality to how he develops his characters that one immediately feels at ease immersing into a narrative that explores the personal and the political through the premise of a teenage boy who goes to collect the remains of his dead father, a migrant worker in Mexico.
“You work like a donkey your whole life. At the end of the day, family is all you have.”
That teenager is played by Hatzin Navarrete, who makes his acting debut here in an exceptionally nuanced performance. As he leaves for home with ‘the box’ of his father’s remains, he chances upon a man who looks just like the deceased.
From then on, Vigas explores themes of mistaken identity, the absence/presence of the father figure, and the illegal operations that bring hundreds of migrant workers to Mexico almost every other week in order to keep factories operating 24/7 in the face of global competition (particularly from the ultra-productive workers in China, as one of the characters laments).
The most interesting aspect of The Box is how the faux father-son dynamics play out in this milieu of illegal activity, as the ‘son’ works for his ‘father’. In a place where labour exploitation and capitalistic dreams conflate, can ‘family’ or surrogates provide a moral compass?