The Movie Waffler Glasgow Film Festival 2022 Review - LA CIVIL | The Movie Waffler

Glasgow Film Festival 2022 Review - LA CIVIL

la civil review
A mother takes on the cartel that kidnapped her daughter.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Teodora Ana Mihai

Starring: Arcelia Ramìrez, Juan Daniel García Treviño, Álvaro Guerrero, Jorge A. Jimenez

la civil poster

As I write this review the world's attention is focused on one particular warzone. As director Teodora Mihai's fiction debut La Civil reminds us, there are many people around the world who don’t live in official warzones yet might as well. Mexico's cartel wars have racked up casualties to rival several conventional wars, with mass graves regularly discovered, often filled with the bodies of those innocently caught up in trouble they sought to avoid.

la civil review

La Civil is executive produced by the Dardennes, and it's easy to see why they were attracted to the project. Like several of their own works, Mihai's film takes a cinema verite approach to documenting a woman's desperate quest for help. That woman is Cielo (Arcelia Ramírez), who is drawn into the bloody world of the cartels when one such group kidnaps her teenage daughter Laura (Denisse Azpilcueta).

When Laura fails to return home one night, Cielo is approached the following morning by El Puma (Daniel Garcia), a young gangster who looks no older than a schoolboy. El Puma's arrogance and feeling of invincibility leads him to inform Cielo of his demands while in a very public restaurant. He knows nobody dares challenge him, something Cielo has yet to learn. El Puma demands 150,000 pesos and the pick-up truck owned by her estranged husband Gustavo (Álvaro Guerrero). Cielo and Gustavo can't gather together the full amount, which leads to more demands from El Puma.

la civil review

Let down by a disinterested local police, Cielo turns to a group of violent Federales who battle the cartels on their own terms. Initially stunned by their violent methods, Cielo nonetheless embeds herself with this group in her desperate search for her daughter. But we get the nagging sense that the Federales, led by a Lieutenant Lamarque (Jorge A. Jimenez) who seems to revel in violence, are simply another gang, and they may well jeopardise Cielo's quest.

Like the heroines of the Dardennes' films, Cielo finds a growing number of doors closing on her face. For every person who takes a risk to help her there's another who understandably isn't willing to incur the wrath of the cartels. With male figures like Lamarque and Gustavo proving useless at best and a possible hindrance at worst, it initially seems like the film might be making a feminist statement, but we later see that the cartels operate something of a matriarchal business with cold-blooded women as responsible for Cielo's predicament as their male counterparts. This isn't a war of the sexes but rather a one-sided conflict fought between the have-nots and the haves-but-want-lots-more. The working class folk here are essentially oppressed by paying a tax to the cartels if they want to stay alive.

la civil review

Mihai comes from a documentary background, and much of La Civil resembles a document of some warzone. The camera sticks close to Cielo, as though she's a guide through this world that she's only just coming to terms with herself. A brutal shootout that makes us question the motives of the Federales is filmed in one-take and resembles the recent films of Michael Mann, its digital sheen making the action feel all too real. Such moments mark Mihai as someone who might possibly be snapped up to helm a Hollywood action movie, but her film's bursts of violence contradict the old maxim that every war movie is a pro-war movie. Her action is adrenalin pumping, but never thrilling or exciting, rather horrifying and deeply grim. La Civil is an anti-war movie set in an unrecognized warzone.

La Civil
 is on UK/ROI VOD from March 14th.

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