FICUNAM 2014 Review: THE SEARCHES (LAS BÚSQUEDAS), A Small Black And White Drama With Depth
José Luis Valle's The Searches (Las Búsquedas) reveals at the end that it was filmed in seven days using real locations, without artificial lights, and costing only $1,500 dollars in total. It is indeed a very small film, with a rather simple narrative, but one that offers depth.
It uses black-and-white cinematography, long takes, a slow place -- the latter two elements can be also found in Valle's other narrative film Workers -- and three recognizable actors, touching such complex themes as loneliness, sorrow, love and revenge. There's a clear narrative that moves The Searches, connecting two separate stories, but the heart of the film is in its little and very human moments; in a way, it wouldn't be a surprise if Valle reveals at some point that he thinks of Jim Jarmusch as an influence.
One of the stories has an unemployed widower (Ulises, played by Amores Perros' Gustavo Sánchez Parra) being the victim of a pickpocket (Gabino Rodríguez) on a regular day at a Mexico City subway station (Pantitlán). Ulises sees the face of the robber and eventually swears he'll find him and kill him. The only problem is that the man who stole his wallet is part of a metropolitan area with more than 20 million residents. Valle uses this rather unusual setting only to let us know more about the Ulises character. The real motivation behind wanting to murder the pickpocket functions as the last connection to a very painful past. Here you can't swear in vain, which also means you can't erase the past at all.
The director takes the necessary time to literally follow Ulises during this "search" that from the outside can be easily seen as a waste of time. There's one particular sequence that stands out: after Ulises realizes his wallet is gone, he's already inside the train car so he must wait to reach the next station, leave the train, change direction and return to see if the robber is still around. If I'm not wrong, there are a couple of cuts in an otherwise unedited long sequence.
Cinematographer César Gutierrez Miranda deserves a special mention, as his work is remarkable; the film is like a collection of beautifully composed still images. All in conjunct create a natural look at Greater Mexico City, showing from its subway, some regular neighbors to the huge landfill that is the Bordo de Xochiaca (where Elysium was filmed). The film's finale happens in this forgotten land, where you can see litter floating through the air. I'll just say the location is appropriate.
Definitely not as marked as it is in Workers, but there's also a hint of social class differences when Ulises, now working as a water seller, meets a lady (Elvira, performed by Arcelia Ramírez) who is not from the "barrio", as he remarks to his best friend (the few conversations between these two men are amusing). Elvira's recent past is as painful as Ulises' and The Searches becomes a very subtle love story, with two persons greatly understanding and helping each other.
If Workers was a film that grew on me, then that exact same thing is already happening with The Searches. This is one that might strike immediately as anticlimactic but that gets much better once is over and you begin thinking about it and the things that can happen to these characters once the past appears again. A mature work by a young director and so far the best Mexican film I have seen this year.