Dir: Maria Novaro. 2000. Mexico-Spain. 125 mins.
Prod cos: Tabasco, Altavista, Tornasol. Domestic dist: Altafilms. Int'l sales: Altavista (52) 5 55 20 45 04. Exec prods: Tita Lombardo, Mariela Besuievsky. Prod: Dulce Kuri. Co-prods: Francisco Gonzalez Compean, Gerardo Herrero. Scr: Novaro. DoP: Serguei Saldivar Tanaka. Prod des: Patrick Pasquier. Ed: Angel Hernandez Zoido. Main cast: Aitana Sanchez-Gijon, Tiare Scanda, Jesus Ochoa, Martin Altomaro.
There's a lot to like about Without A Trace, a feminist road movie with more than a dash of Thelma And Louise to it. Two sexy and salty central characters, a nice sense of comedy, the foot-tapping soundtrack of Mexican folk music and some stupendous landscapes add up to an attractive package which should have no trouble finding fans in Spanish-speaking markets.
However, much too long at over two hours, it would benefit vastly from some speeding up of the central section and is seriously let down by a lame ending which doesn't send the audience out on the necessary high. A trip back to the editing room would give it a sporting chance of crossing over internationally beyond the arthouse circuit.
The snappy opening introduces Aurelia (Scanda), a single mum on the run from her drugs-smuggling lover with a two-month-old baby and stash of stolen money in the back of her car. Driving south from the US/Mexican border, she gives a ride to Ana (Sanchez-Gijon), a stunning Spanish woman who turns out to have a murky past dealing fake pre-Hispanic art and is now penniless despite her classy appearance. When a sinister red car appears on their tail, each of the women is convinced it's targeting her.
As they travel down through the Mayan area to the Yucatan peninsula in the south, their mutual mistrust thaws into friendship as they savour their new independence. It's the chemistry between them and their encounters with the locals along the way which propel the story. By contrast a subplot involving a pack of corrupt, buffoonish cops feels increasingly like a distraction and the last half an hour, in which Ana disappears from the scene, is the weakest section. The male characters remain broadly drawn but both women deliver sharp, bright performances and, together with the fine cinematography, ensure that the film is always easy on the eye.