Gian Cassini’s Comala is certainly one of a minimum of two documentaries exhibiting at main movie festivals this 12 months—one other being Karim Aïnouz’s O marinheiro das montanhas, premiering in Cannes—during which a filmmaker digs into the household historical past tying him to an absent father. Similar to Aïnouz in his masterly movie, Cassini is decidedly ambivalent about his father, having greater than ample motive to be so: his father was a Mexican hitman, or sicario, who walked out on Cassini and his mom.
That phrase, sicario, crops up greater than as soon as in clippings examined by Cassini to explain his father, James “El Jimmy” Oleg Cassini Monarrez: seen right here, the phrase is a needling throwback to the American action-thriller Sicario, whose perspective on Mexican drug wars was hardly a lesson in empathy. Comala takes a richer, extra humane route, embedding its elliptical portrait of a wayward father in a delicate understanding of the drug wars and patriarchal tradition that formed him. Though Cassini, as a director, is just too light in his method to drive the purpose, his movie provides as much as a bitter broadside towards a toxic, and poisoned, sort of masculinity.
The context during which Comala should be understood, is the Mexican chapter of the so-called Battle on Medicine as practiced by america: the U.S. is the world’s greatest client of cocaine, demand for which has ensured that Mexico, positioned between the U.S. and Latin America, is the commonest route for unlawful drug imports into the nation. Since 2006, American efforts have ramped as much as deal with this example, however violence throughout the business, principally between cartels vying for supremacy, has been rife for many years. That is the world that Comala appears at with a fragile, sorrowful eye.
Cassini exhibits the attraction of the gangster life, taking a look at a number of males in his household, from father to uncle to half-brother, whose style for womanizing and violence led them to embrace that existence, earlier than, within the case of his uncle and brother, dying earlier than their time. The director’s sympathies lie, clearly, with the betrayed wives, single moms, deserted daughters and scorned mistresses swept into these males’s lives—and it could be that his perspective as a homosexual man, referred to considerably obliquely right here, provides him the requisite distance from that world to critique it in full.
Because the movie begins, Cassini units out to uncover the daddy whom he knew so patchily—a person he barely noticed all through his childhood earlier than reconnecting with him as a youngster after which once more dropping out of contact. Putting himself within the body as each filmmaker and topic, the director stumbles sometimes in scenes that enact documentary clichés, resembling poring over outdated letters and pictures, or considering the ocean’s regular churn throughout moments of reflection. Nonetheless, Cassini has an eye fixed, and seizes a number of startling photos on the fly as he units about his investigation, like a curbside stall of youngsters’s toys that includes a litter of gaudy pink toys (for women), and only one black machine gun (for boys).
Cassini’s deceptively probing model as an interlocutor, in the meantime, yields some transferring testimonials from his mom and grandmother, and provides his male interviewees sufficient rope with which to hold themselves. One scene specifically, of an aged relative exhibiting off his weaponry with barely hid delight and bloodlust, feels fairly acidic in its depiction of useless, pig-headed masculinity undimmed by years. At one other level, Cassini captures an uncle speaking with astonishing candor about his first homicide, on the age of fourteen: that is the determined, pain-ridden world that he has managed to flee.
“One scene specifically, of an aged relative exhibiting off his weaponry with barely hid delight and bloodlust, feels fairly acidic in its depiction of useless, pig-headed masculinity undimmed by years.”
Comala has a narrative to inform—certainly one of abandonment and homicide—and in true trendy documentary model it withholds a number of twists and turns till the later phases, albeit with out changing into manipulative. That is the story of Jimmy’s involvement with a number of ladies, and of Gian’s mom defending him from his father’s world as greatest she may. The style of Jimmy’s loss of life, and Cassini’s causes for ceasing contact with him, are additionally alluded to, in ways in which make narrative sense, whereas not feeling particularly suspenseful. That need of a driving drive can imply that the film loses its tempo and rhythm, dawdling slightly over varied letters and recollections—and if Comala has a transparent perspective, it nonetheless lacks a little bit of energy. A extra forceful, stylized model of filmmaking—Comala, with its naturalistic camerawork and palette, is moderately well mannered in visible phrases, with an unobtrusive rating—may probably have conjured one thing extra piercing.
Nonetheless, Comala collects sufficient riches to make it a sobering expertise, and plenty of of its strains or asides could stick with the viewer for a while after watching—such because the remark from Cassini’s uncle, Daker, that Mexico’s drug lords put their kids by means of school with their unlawful beneficial properties, and with the constructing works required to construct their showy properties, created extra jobs than any federal schemes ever did. One other line, “Your father was like me, he liked to fuck,” will probably ring on this reviewer’s ears for a while. In the end, Comala returns us, because it ought to, to the mom, and her hopes for her son, which lie in understated counterpoint to the crimes and schemes of the boys we’ve met. The movie’s last dedication, to Cassini’s younger nephew, a person of the longer term whom now we have glimpsed in tender embrace along with his uncle, is hopeful and heartrending.
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