Here: a small village in Guerrero, Mexico, where Pedro (Pedro De los Santos Juárez) returns to a pregnant wife, Teresa (Teresa Ramírez Aguirre), and two daughters obviously made in his noble image, though the eldest’s occasional displays of petulance, both at home and at school, reek of resentment for his absence. Nothing, it would seem, has changed since he left for New York, and for reasons that are understood to be completely about currency. Life, peaceful but bored, suggests a series of negotiations and transactions, from the local marketplace where women haggle over the price of produce to the children that fall into the hands of friends, sometimes strangers, after their parents choose to leave.
There: the place where the young dream of going when life becomes too dull to fathom, where men and women must go to in order to support the homeland that would appear to resist sustainability. It isn’t tragedy exactly when the soil spits out its haggard and bitter crop, when there are no more construction jobs for men to take, and though there are echoes of The Death of Mr. Lazrescu here, it isn’t farce when Pedro must spend the time and money he doesn’t have in order to give the ailing Teresa and newborn the blood and medicine a hospital cannot. It’s simply the way of life in a place that doesn’t know—maybe never will—another way of living.
The audience is immersed in the quiet rhythms of this world through director Antonio Méndez Esparza’s becalmed, almost unrelenting use of the medium shot, and though we remain at a remove from the characters throughout the film, the feeling is apt given that Pedro and his family inhabit a place that’s dislocated from itself. Even in joy, such as when Pedro’s daughters giggle uncontrollably through a record of a song—about, naturally, aimlessly wandering through the world—he sang to gringos in order to make money for his family, there’s a sense that this man and his daughters are reaching for each other across a gulf cruelly enforced on them.
Here and There isn’t concerned with the drugs and bloodshed that forces Mexicans from their homeland. Not only is it uninterested in the politics of immigration, it deliberately downplays the anguish of its characters’ resigned lives, and to such an extent that it seems to emanate from a negative void. The film’s quiet agenda is to convey, through its indecorous aesthetic and storyline and amateur performances, the unforgiving banality and lack of financial opportunity that drives Mexicans to America. It’s a confident vision, but its aversion to sentiment has the intended but unfortunate effect of making the characters’ disconnects our own.