Escalante’s sophomore feature is slow and deliberate, yet extremely exacting in what it wants to do, which is to portray with docu-style authenticity one day in the life of two illegal Mexican labourers, with shocking results.
Dir. Amat Escalante
2008 | Mexico | Crime/Drama | 86 min | 2.35:1 | Spanish & English
Not rated – likely to be R21 for sexual scene, nudity and strong bloody violence
Cast: Jesus Moises Rodriguez, Ruben Sosa, Nina Zavarin
Plot: 24 hours in the lives of Fausto and Jesus, two undocumented Mexican day-laborers in L.A. Each morning, they gather with fellow workers on the street, waiting for work to come. Today, the job is much better paid than usual—but Jesus carries a shotgun inside his backpack.
Awards: Nom. for Un Certain Regard Award (Cannes)
International Sales: Le Pacte
Subject Matter: Moderate – Illegal Labour; Unintended Consequences
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Audience Type: General Arthouse
Somewhat mirroring his debut feature, Blood (2005), in terms of style, Los Bastardos continues Amat Escalante’s exploration of mundane domesticity through raw docu-style aesthetics, this time from the outside vantage point of ‘the other’.
Instead of Mexico, we find ourselves across the border in Los Angeles, as two illegal Mexican labourers, like many others, try to find work even though they are paid poorly by the hour.
Adopting a ‘one day in the life of’ approach to the narrative, we spend much of the runtime with Jesus and the younger Fausto, except for a sequence involving an exasperated American mother and her apathetic teenage son whom she can’t seem to communicate with.
“Pay us ten dollars an hour.”
The Americans will encounter the Mexicans at some point, however briefly or extendedly, and that’s where Escalante’s work might, for some, recall the likes of Michael Haneke, particularly his Funny Games (1997).
Los Bastardos may be slow and deliberate, even monotonous, yet it is also extremely exacting in what it wants to do. Like Blood, it is not a particularly great film, and can be viewed as more of an exercise of ideas rather than the comprehensive piece of cinema that was his next feature, Heli (2013).
Still, nothing will prepare the viewer for one of the most brutal and shocking scenes on this side of Mexican cinema. It is a moment that jolts Los Bastardos into life in its final act and allows it to find a justified narrative footing, one that echoes the notion that the world of the film is not any less a realistic portrait of lives in flux, caught in one dire situation after another.