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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A chilling and brilliant exploration of the human divisions thrown up by anti-immigration laws, 5 Mar. 2010
A. J. Cox "Andrew Cox" (London, N22) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Bastardos [DVD] [2008] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC] (DVD)
Amat Escalante's 'Los Bastardos' (2008), which I had the pleasure of seeing at the Tate Modern in December 2009, fits into the existential `buddy narrative' of films and plays like `Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead' and Samuel Beckett's `Waiting for Godot'. The long opening shot is of a desolate urban landscape on the outskirts of Los Angeles, and shows two wandering figures in the far background. Escalante sets the scene for the film and introduces us to the broader social predicaments of the characters, who are illegal Mexican labourers in the United States.

'Los Bastardos' opens slowly and the two main protagonists, Jesus and Fausto, don't come to the fore till at least halfway into the film. They have been contracted to kill an American woman. The woman's life is portrayed as rather drab. She lives with an uncommunicative and awkward adolescent son, with whom she can barely hold a conversation, and she seeks solace through drug use. When Jesus and Fausto break into the woman's home is where the narrative begins to unfold. `Los Bastardos' is very similar, stylistically, to the German director, Michael Haneke's `Funny Games' (1989) - Jesus demands food from the woman and she is constantly watched over with a shotgun. Whilst Haneke's film is very much a modern, dystopian fairy tale with the nice middle class family being tortured and imprisoned by two sadistic sociopaths from no particular place, Escalante portrays believable characters in Jesus and Fausto. Jesus and Fausto are not `natural' friends - Jesus is in his 30s, while Fausto is an awkward and reticent teenager. They are two people thrown together by their own social and economic deracination - neither of them can speak English; they are illegal aliens; and the very thing that has driven them to cross the US border - namely, money for a better life - is something they can only acquire in any substantial amount through killing another human being, whom they know nothing about.

The incarceration of the woman is gruesome and harrowing to follow. Though the two Mexicans are not brutal to the woman, she is still their prisoner and when she is told to strip down to her underwear to go swimming with them, she takes on a clown-like character and adds an `absurdist' element to the drama. The woman cannot speak enough Spanish to plead or bargain with her kidnappers, and they take advantage of home comforts such as food, swimming pool and TV whilst holding her captive. Escalante could be mocking passivity and consumerism when showing the kidnappers aimlessly lounging around in their victim's home indifferent to her basic humanity, but on the other hand they could be seen as taking advantage, however unjustly, of what little comfort is available to them both in America and their home country.

The narrative of `Los Bastardos' in many ways becomes larger than the sum of its parts. Whilst a writer like Samuel Beckett was seen as hinting at the existential, philosophical alienation and deracination of post-war Europe in `Waiting for Godot', Escalante's film opens up channels of discussion about the very real human and existential void created by irrational preoccupations in the Western world with issues such as illegal immigration and the notion of the `economic migrant'. The United States is so determined to keep Latinos out that it is prepared to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on border security and perimeter walls. The inhuman consequences of these policies result in Latin Americans seeking even more dangerous routes, such as through desert, to get across the border leading to tragic consequences for those who perish at the cruel hands of nature.

There is no proper debate about immigration in America or Europe. The real human issues are ignored and immigration is reduced to a merely economic and technical problem - albeit, a very expensive one in terms of the social and financial expenditure required to contain it. The ingenuity of Escalante's film is that it makes us think about what is happening in front of us. He avoids endowing the film with an explicit social message, but you can't watch and fully appreciate a film like `Los Bastardos' if it doesn't make you question why these things happen to people and why it is wrong.
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Bastardos [DVD] [2008] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
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