Sin dejar huella, María Novaro’s Mexican Thelma and Louise, pulls
off one of the most skilful feats in cinema
Sin dejar huella
2000, Altavista, Tabasco, TVE,
Tornasol, Vía Digital
109 minutes (Spanish with English subtitles)
Reviewed by Eugene Carey
LATAMROB rating: *****
THIS Mexican Thelma and Louise by the director of the stunning Danzón takes a clever and highly entertaining swipe at machismo in a society where men are portrayed as dysfunctional and largely unnecessary adjuncts to ambitious women.
The male as obstacle is not a new theme in Latin American cinema, but Novaro’s clever twist is to deploy in her narrative the two most degenerative castes in Mexican patriarchy – the cops and the drug-traffickers – as sweaty barriers to the heroines Aurelia and Marilú.
Aurelia (Tiaré Scanda) is a single mother who toils away in a sweatshop and whose latest squeeze is the bumbling minor henchman of a drug boss. Not content to exist merely at his sexual convenience, she swipes his stash and makes a dash.
Heading for Cancún in her station wagon, she gives a ride to the sophisticated and nervous Ana/Marilú (Aitana Sanchez-Gijon), a classy fugitive from corrupt Mexican federal police who trades in forged Mayan artwork.
It soon becomes clear that they are being followed – by either narcos or judiciales, what difference does it make? – and the chase is on, setting the scene for a road movie built on an uneasy friendship punctuated by mutual squabbles and betrayals.
Novaro uses the narrative to explore the class differences that differentiate the women alongside the gender oppression at the hands of amoral male scavengers that they share.
The key question that the director asks is whether the women can trust each other enough to unite – a potent theme in Latin American feminism and one, after the initial euphoria of democratisation in the region, that has again become prominent as the women’s movement, especially in Mexico, takes stock of its limited gains.
As with Danzón, the director also provides fascinating insights into provincial life – both north and south – outside Mexico’s corrupt metropolis, allowing her to emphasise the complexity and diversity of the country’s regional identities that are so often overlooked.
As a portrait of the gentle, creative Maya, for example, Sin dejar huella (Without a Trace) goes further than many films in acknowledging the importance of indigenous language to cultural history and how characters such as Aurelia have to be led to this realization. Despite her quest for a new life in the prosperous economy of Cancún, Aurelia finds safety – but also herself – in the Mayan heartlands.
Novaro has pulled off the most skilful trick in cinema – combining cultural commentary with great entertainment – and, although no blockbuster, Sin dejar huella must rank as one of the best Mexican movies of the decade.