Northern Skies Over Empty Space (2022) Berlinale Panorama

February 12th, 2022
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir.: Alejandra Marquez Abella; Cast: Gerardo Trejoluna, Paloma Petra, Dolores Heredia, Mayra Hermosillo, Francesco Barreiro, Juan Daniel Garcia Trevino, Raul Briones; Mexico 202, 115 min.

After her first feature, The Good Girls, a superficial comedy of manners, Mexican director/co-writer Alejandra Marquez Abella, comes up trumps with a hard hitting neo noir Western, a stylish, epic tale of violence and spurned love. Brilliantly shot by DoP Claudia Becerril Bulos, this is a mixture of Italo-Western and soap-opera, with an ending like Rene Clement’s late feature La course du lièvre à travers les champs.

Don Reynaldo (Trejoluna) is a ranch owner near the city of Monterrey. Ranch and owner are decaying, and family life is more than complicated. Suffering from prostate cancer and failing eyesight, Reynaldo (‘Rey’) can’t even hunt any more – his greatest hobby, as documented by the many trophies in the mansion, which has seen also better times. He is married to long suffering Sofia (Heredia), whose life is dominated by the menopause. Rey’s best (and only friend) is Rosa (Petra), the dominant manager of the state, who even shoots a deer for her master, after he has muffed the shots. Apart from her, everyone in the family wants to inherit the ranch, even though nobody takes any responsibilities, leaving Rey to mis-manage the property, whilst still pretending to be a great hunter. He has an ambivalent relationship with his son Elias (Barreiro), who is going through a divorce, and might lose custody of his children. Elias wants nothing more than be loved by his father, and Sofia reminds her husband to show some affection. Daughter Lily (Hermosillo), once dad’s favourite, is now distancing herself from the once proud patriarch. Then, one the day, Rey is celebrating the founding of the ranch by his father, a stranger, calling himself Guzman (Briones), appears and asks for ‘Protection’ money. Rey sends him away, but we all know, that the man, or even worse characters, will appear again. Rey, obviously having a death wish, sends everyone of his his family away. Only Rose, pregnant after having been gang-raped, will fight Rey to the bitter end – but not before she makes the most astonishing confessions.

There’s enough going on here in to sustain our attention for the two hours running time. Petra carries the film and the conflicting interests of Rey and his family, as well as the few employees left. The atmosphere is maudlin from the beginning, and amid the escalating violence and betrayals, Rey gradually loses control while the family run for cover. Rosa and Rey seem to be the only couple with mutual feelings – until the former’s disclosure seems to pull the rug from underneath what Rey and the audience assumed to be the truth in this impressive spectacle of class conflict, opportunism, greed, shattered illusions and death. AS

BERLINALE | PANORAMA 2022

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