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Review: The mother of a missing girl does not stop, does not stop in the heartbreaking thriller ‘La Civil’

Tens of thousands of people have disappeared in Mexico as a result of the ongoing drug war. That dire statistic has inevitably influenced films made in or about the country. Among them, Romanian writer-director Teodora Mihai’s essential, if heartbreaking, thriller “La Civil” shocks the establishment by the moral grays of a story about an ordinary person who enters the most unthinkable abyss.

Our guide in this grim and all-too-common reality is Cielo (Arcelia Ramírez), a housewife in northern Mexico whose teenage daughter disappears one day. Her ruthless captors soon move in to demand ransom, but even after doing the best that Cielo and her estranged husband can, the young woman does not return home.

From crushing helplessness, a devious bravery grows within the heartbroken mother. First, without any support from the authorities, she launches her own dangerous investigation into the criminal organization that controls her city. When her efforts attract the attention of a military officer (Jorge A. Jiménez), Cielo, now sporting a bulletproof vest, witnesses ruthless violence in the name of justice.

But instead of exploiting her grief-fueled mission for a “Taken”-like revenge spectacle, the social drama verité understands Cielo’s determination to find answers not as mere bravery, but as a tragic lack of concern for her. own safety He would first lose his own life rather than let his son’s murderers get away with it.

An actor with an extensive resume that includes popular soap operas, Ramírez conjures up an astonishing, career-best performance so intensely laced with equal parts devastating fury and unfathomable anguish; he consistently takes the air out of anyone who is watching. Cielo undergoes an agonizing soul transformation, which Ramírez maps out both in his body language and in making us aware that no matter the outcome of her devastating search, this woman will never return to who she was before the nightmare began. .

Executive produced by international authors, including the Dardenne brothers and Cristian Mungiu, “La Civil” conveys an unflinching realism that places it in a distinctive place among the recent wave of hard-to-watch Mexican projects about mothers of disappeared persons, along with “ by Fernanda Valadez. Identifying characteristics” and the recently released “Ruido” by Natalia Beristáin.

Mihai was originally pursuing a documentary project in Mexico, but practical and security obstacles convinced her to turn to fiction, inspired by the true case of Miriam Rodríguez, on whom the character Cielo is based. The fact that the filmmaker enlisted Mexican notary Habacuc Antonio De Rosario to co-write the script probably helped ensure a nuanced reflection and avoid contaminating it with a simplistic and critical outside gaze.

In Cielo’s compromised position, as he reluctantly learns the extent of the entrenched corruption and intimidation around him, Mihai conveys an overwhelming, almost inescapable despair. That raw feeling is matched by the tension in the viscerally at the time camerawork by Marius Panduru (regular cinematographer for Romanian director Radu Jude), who only in the film’s ambiguous final shot offers a small glimmer of hope.

At the end of Cielo’s ordeal, she comes face to face with the mother of one of the young men responsible for her daughter’s kidnapping. Her counterpart, also distraught, cannot conceive why her son would be in trouble. Two mothers, on opposite sides of the road, both victims of a society marred by poverty and impunity, and a government incapable of solving either.

‘The Civilian’

In Spanish with English subtitles

Not qualified

Execution time: 2 hours, 20 minutes

Playing: Laemmle Royal, West Los Angeles; Laemmle Glendale