The story follows the thread of the more than a thousand stories repeated in Mexico. This time she takes the name of Magdalena, a mother who watches her son leave in a truck for the United States with a backpack on her shoulder and the promise of a better future. When her son becomes one of the more than 91,000 missing persons that the country accumulates, Magdalena embarks on a journey from Guanajuato to the border. She alone against a corrupt and saturated system. Without ever having left his town, without knowing how to read or write the documents of the Public Ministry, and without surrendering after refusing to declare his son as dead, since the record that the authorities gave him did not have any particular signs of him.
The film that has conquered the Morelia Festival 2020 and that will be released on August 5 is the first feature film by Fernanda Valadez. The director has managed to approach in a more humane way a pattern repeated in Mexican culture and that this year has made itself heard at the Cannes Film Festival: the wake of violence in Mexico. No particular signs is a low-budget film that has attracted the attention of critics by getting the viewer involved in an almost hypnotic visual experience, transporting him within the scenes with careful audiovisual resources and a soundtrack capable of speeding up or slowing down the heart rate at its own pace. convenience. The sensitivity with which the camera accompanies the character has earned him the award for best script at the 2020 Sundance Festival, the Horizontes Latinos Award and the Spanish Cooperation Award at the San Sebastian Festival, as well as several international recognitions.
Valadez became fully involved in the project, directing it and co-writing the script with a partner from his time as a film student: Astrid Rondero. Both were inspired by the terrible reality reported in the headlines of 2012. “In Mexico there was always organized crime, but those years there was a change and it permeated many social sectors. We began to feel how disappearances and kidnappings could affect us all ”, says the director. That feeling of hopelessness and vulnerability was the ink of the first lines of the script, a story to talk about the mass disappearances after the war against drug trafficking of former President Felipe Calderón. “The mothers of the victims became detectives, activists, and sometimes got more information than the authorities,” he recalls.
Before the press echoed the wake of complaints by relatives in unknown whereabouts, Rondero and Valadez were informed of the disappearances by the testimonies posted by the victims’ relatives on an internet blog. “It was there that Astrid found a chronicle of a survivor of a bus hijacking,” she tells of the seed of the project. “We do not know if it is true or fictional, but it fit the testimonies of truck hijackings in Mexico that arrived with suitcases, but without passengers and that we suspected were signs of forms of forced recruitment,” he adds.
Through Magdalena, the creators fuse the courage of Mexican mothers who faced their tragedy and went out to find their children. On her journey, the protagonist comes into contact with more characters who, despite having a very different reality from her own as an illiterate peasant, had lost someone they never heard from again. At a corpse recognition station on the border, another mother tells Magdalena that she has been looking for her son for years. Seeing her stunned by the bureaucracy, he advises her and tells her not to sign the papers they have given her in which they identify her son as dead with the only proof of having found her backpack among the remains of other victims. “If you sign it, they will stop looking for it. Don’t make the same mistake I did, ”he asks. That gives her the strength to follow the few clues she has of her son’s trail through dusty roads in no-man’s-land, with just a plastic bag with some clothes and no money.
The interpreter Mercedes Hernández also drew on newspaper notes and testimonies from family members to reproduce the pain in Magdalena. “There is a dichotomy between the fragility of not having a family member nearby and the strength that is needed to go out and look for him. She [su personaje] he had to have his feet on the ground to walk and search, but at the same time they had to grow wings to face the obstacles that come his way, ”he says. However, the production of the film took care that the story remained under the term of fiction, away from the documentary format, so they tried to inhibit themselves from real stories or the testimonies of the victims’ associations.
The protagonist had one more resource up her sleeve to get into character: her own memories. At 50, his memory still has fresh that image of the “terrible ex-president” obsessed with fighting organized crime at any cost, dressed as a military man and up in a tank declaring war on drug trafficking. “He was arrogant by power in a hypocritical way and we are still living the consequences of those wrong decisions,” adds the actress about the latest data on homicides and disappearances in Mexico that have not been affected by the pandemic. For the director, the fact that the focus of the cinema is focusing on this heartbreaking scenario is a sign of her mark on daily life in Mexico. “As long as this reality continues to be presented, it will continue to be a source of stories and journalism. Cinema, like art, is a trigger to understand, but also to process wounds that we have in society, and violence in Mexico is something that we have not left behind ”, Valadez emphasizes.
To her and Hernández, as well as the rest of the team, the success of Sin particular signs came without warning. “We were not prepared. It is a very small film with a small budget and I see it as a fortune. As we had no expectations, we had the freedom to tell the story without thinking about what was going to happen next at festivals or with the public, ”recalls Valadez.
For his part, Hernández was already juggling the rest of the successful premieres he has accumulated in recent months. First Are, the Netflix series in which she plays Mrs. Chayo, and then Civil, the acclaimed film at Cannes about a mother searching for her missing daughter in Tamaulipas. Their last three great roles have one thing in common: the mythical figure of the mother who is capable of carrying anything on her back in order to save her children. A figure that in Mexico is contagious to all women who have no other option but to be brave.
Hernández has a teenage son and several times during filming that thought entered his head. “In a country like Mexico, mothers are afraid that something like this will happen to us,” she says. Luckily, by cutting the scenes he could distance himself from the reality of the character, but the feeling stays in the minds of the viewers for several hours. “Within women who are physically small and with small social functions such as selling hot dogs, domestic workers or single mothers there is an immeasurable strength,” she comments, and assures that she sees that strength in all the women she observes in Ciudad de Mexico who go to work every day and get on public transport with a child in their arms and a bag loaded with diapers in the other.
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