Dir/scr: Amat Escalante.Mexico-Fr 2005. 90mins.
Life's existentialgrimness, Mexican style, is the subject of Sangre, a moody, taut,elliptical but ultimately rather frustrating debut by Amat Escalante. One man'squiet but troubled life caves in on him dramatically - yet somehowundramatically - in a story of finely-observed domestic and character detailthat will fascinate some viewers and utterly alienate others.
Spare and teasing, leavingout more than it includes, Sangre hints at distressing metaphysicaldepths behind a facade of studious mundanity, in a way that rather recalls L'Humaniteby France's Bruno Dumont, but without the arch solemnity.
Sangre is an intriguing prospect for the more adventurousart-house distributors, and is bound to have a healthy festival presence,especially given another currently prominent Mexican connection: debut directorEscalante worked as assistant director on Battle In Heaven - featured inCompetition in Cannes this year - by the increasingly prominent CarlosReygadas, who is one of Sangre's producers.
Diego (Recio) is a meek,taciturn middle-aged man who works as doorman in a government building andenjoys a predictable life with his younger wife Blanca (Saldana), who works ina fast-food sushi bar. Evenings together consist of takeaway food and TVtelenovelas on the sofa, usually followed by vigorous but efficient sex, withBianca very much calling the shots.
Blanca, however, is jealouswith a mercurial temper, generally implied rather than showed directly: theopening shot shows Diego recovering from a head wound she has apparentlyinflicted. Later, she throws a chair at him, but it's typical of the film'slaconic style that we see it bounce off a wall, Diego's impassive head bobbingcomically back into frame afterwards, as if nothing special had happened.
Diego is further concernedabout Karina (Orozco), his daughter from a previous relationship, who isleaving her drug addict boyfriend and wants to move in with her father. Heknows, however, that Blanca won't hear of it, and finds Karina a hotel roominstead. His failure to take more decisive action has grim consequences,leading to the film's striking if, in the end, mystifying conclusion, set inthe vicinity of a huge rubbish dump on the outskirts of the city.
Sangre always seems to promise something more cathartic ordramatic than it delivers: despite the title, which hints at family ties aswell as violence, we never gets the bloody developments we expect. At onepoint, Escalante even teases us with the prospect of outright horror, as Diegostocks up on saws and other ominous DIY equipment, but proves a false lead. Thelast few shots give us an enigmatic staged tableau, followed by a bizarre andseemingly symbolic 'miracle' (or is it a sight gag'), before leaving us toscratch our heads.
Overall, Sangre takesa distinctive and subtle approach to seemingly mundane realist material.Stylistically Escalante imposes his stamp with long contemplative takes andconfident 'Scope photography by Alex Fenton. Strikingly downbeat duo Saldanaand Recio can't be faulted on their courage, given their more thanmatter-of-fact nude scenes.
And Recio makes a strikinglyunusual protagonist - bald, cross-eyed, diffident but hinting at hidden depthsin Diego, or perhaps a chilling lack of them.