“The road through Mexico.”
The title translates as Leaving No Trace, and is entirely appropriate, since it focuses on two women who, each for their own reasons, are very keen to disappear off the grid. There’s MariLu (Sánchez-Gijón), a.k.a. Ana, a.k.a. a bunch of other names – she has three different passports – who works in the murky world of art smuggling, and is first encountered sneaking across the border from Arizona into Mexico [a nicely-ironic reversal of the usual traffic]. She is being pursued doggedly by cop Mendizábal (Ochoa), who is trailing Ana to find out who she works for. Then there’s Aurelia (Scanda), a single mom who is on the run after stealing and selling the stash of drugs her boyfriend Saul (Altomaro) was holding for the cartel, and who is on the run with the resulting cash. The pair meet up and agree to share the drive to Cancun, though neither is willing to reveal the truth about themselves. However, a red car with tinted windows is tailing them: is is Saul or Mendizábal behind the wheel?
This plays a little like a Mexican version of Thelma & Louise, although the women here begin as strangers instead of friends, and their film is as much about the growth of their relationship as the interaction with the outside world. It’s also very much a road movie, with the landscape through which they move almost another character; there are some amazing locations, such as the abandoned and derelict plantation mansion, now taken over and inhabited by the local peasants, or the near-deserted hotel in which the final act unfolds. Novaro does a great job of contrasting the grinding poverty and stunning natural beauty, and there’s an undercurrent of political subtext, with apparent nods toward NAFTA and the female homicides in Juarez. However, it is all kept light enough to teach Callie Khouri a thing or two about the benefits of subtlety and understatement.
Aurelia is likely the more sympathetic character, mainly because we know the truth about her situation – Ana appears almost pathologically incapable of telling the truth to anyone, about anything. However, the motivations and eventual goals of the women are left murky and unclear; this is a film definitely more interested in the journey, both physical and spiritual, than the destination. This is most apparent in an unsatisfactory conclusion, which zigs in one direction before inexplicably zagging back in another, without adequate explanation for either. The two pincers closing on the women do cross, only for one then apparently to meander off, as if distracted. And that’s a shame, as the film had put together a number of compelling elements and memorable sequences, including one of the more brutally realistic crashes I’ve seen [cars don’t fly, they plummet]. You should accept going in, this is much more drama than action; do that, and it’s an enjoyable enough ride, even if the final objective is rather disappointing.
Dir: Maria Novaro
Star: Tiaré Scanda, Aitana Sánchez-Gijón Jesús Ochoa, Martín Altomaro