Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

It's all too easy to pre-judge a film by the poster and the synopsis, especially when you're at a festival where you are spoilt for choice. I say this as a preface to admitting that I took one look at the San Sebastian poster for Northless - a man sitting on a wooden bench in an unnamed place beneath pictures of George Bush and Arnold Schwarzenegger - and a glimpse at the synopsis, which talked of a man trying to head from Mexico into the US and thought: "Oh dear, that'll be another angst-ridden, beige-tinted, depressing film about failed migration."

Fate - a concept that is also considered in the film - was to intervene, however, and I found myself by scheduling mix up in what turned out to be the right place at the right time to see it. And I'd like to shake Lady Luck warmly by the hand for ensuring that I didn't miss this quietly humorous, gently endearing examination of one man's attempts to get his hands on the American dream.

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Far from being another dry exposition on the subject of illegal migrants, Rigoberto Pérezcano's debut is a character-driven gem that depicts the trek north as a desperate and often futile waiting game that is, although potentially deadly, also faintly ridiculous.

Andres (Harold Torres), is a Mexican from the mountains who heads to Tijuana with a view to gaining passage to America. Of course, the Land Of The Free doesn't come cheap, and he hooks up with a people trafficking 'coyote' to lead him through the desert. After being conned and left stranded, a fate that awaits many who try to cross this way in real life, he winds up right back where he started from in Tijuana, only this time with no cash.

Here, as he steels himself for further attempts and tries to raise some collateral, the film tracks the relationships he forms in the limbo of transit. Taken under the wing of shop owner Ela (Alicia Laguna) he finds himself at the hub of two weird and slyly humorous relationship triangles both with Ela and her would-be squeeze Asensio (Luis Cárdenas) and with Ela and her other young employee Cata (Sonia Couoh).

Initially a film of few words - there is virtually no dialogue for the first half an hour - Pérezcano wisely chooses to show us as much as tell us, a smart decision which lets the background information about migration and people-trafficking unfold before us. Although Andres is in many ways 'desperate' to reach his goal, it is not the sort of dog-eat-dog desire that is often presented in films such as this - for example, last year's Sin Nombre - but a quieter and, in many ways, more moving emotion.

Although touching on many of the very real and life-threatening dangers faced by would-be migrants - such as the ever-present wall to the 'no man's land' of the desert and the risks of striking out across that waterless and pitiless expanse alone - Pérezcano resists preaching in favour of stressing the sort of black humour which these attempts at making it Stateside present. Sweetly affecting and charming, while still making a very serious point, Northless is a lot more than its synopsis suggests.

Reviewed on: 24 Mar 2010
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Northless packshot
A man trying to cross into the US finds himself 'trapped' in Tijuana.
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Director: Rigoberto Pérezcano

Writer: Edgar San Juan, Rigoberto Pérezcano

Starring: Harold Torres, Alicia Laguna, Sonia Couoh, Luis Cárdenas

Year: 2009

Runtime: 95 minutes

Country: Mexico, Spain

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If you like this, try:

Sin Nombre