Prayers for the Stolen – Film Review
by Frank L
Director – Tatiana Huezo
Writers – Jennifer Clement(based on the novel by), Tatiana Huezo
Stars – Memo Villegas, Mayra Batalla, Norma Pablo
In the Mexican countryside where the only law is that of the current controlling drug cartel, three young girls are growing up. Because the place is remote it is suitable for growing poppies and harvesting its valuable latex. The only other economic activity is an environmentally damaging quarry where men and boys are employed. Ana, the principal young girl, is being brought up by her mother, her father having left for work elsewhere but refuses to answer his mobile. Like all the women, Ana and her mother have to fend for themselves and the dangers are everywhere.
There is a constant threat to girls that they may be kidnapped. Ana’s mother is ever aware of this and the film begins with the two of them making a grave with their bare hands in which Ana can hide if needs be. Outside of this amoral human danger, the very existential beauty of the countryside provides a habitat for insects and reptiles which are dangerous in a different way. These exotic creatures fascinate Ana but she is already fully aware that they are to be treated with caution even if beautiful. The close-up shots of these creatures are mesmerising and in particular an exquisitely marked striped snake. Fashion designers eat your hearts out.
The film moves abruptly from Ana’s childhood to Ana as a young adolescent when the challenges for Ana and her mother intensify. But there are moments when positive outside influences can be seen, for example, the enthusiasm of a progressive school teacher and the visit of a caring medical team. But notwithstanding these positives, danger lurks everywhere.
The cinematography is magnificent both in the wide-angled shots and in the close-ups of individual fauna. The cast consists mostly of children whose apparent spontaneity gives authenticity to what is being described. It is a film which takes place in a most beautiful place but the activities of man have blighted it. The dangers that nature creates women and girls can learn to circumvent but the dangers created by men are more difficult to surmount.
The background to this film is disturbing. The dialogue is sparse. However, Huezo’s subtle direction of the young cast and the glorious cinematography make this an engaging film that holds the attention.