David Jenkins


Lost in the Night – first-look review

Mexican provocateur Amat Escalante makes a half-cocked bid for mainstream respectability in this intriguing tale of a young man’s torrid search for his missing mother.

Usually when you’re watching a film by the Mexican filmmaker Amat Escalante, you’re constantly asking the question: “I wonder when this character is going to die, and how horribly?” His latest film Lost in the Night is a more sedate affair and sees him take a soft pivot towards a less disreputable, more genre-driven type of work that ends up dialling back the trademark nauseating violence and sexual humiliation.

Yet there’s still a measure of brutality in this tale of a young Mexican labourer who goes undercover in a bid to discover the fate of his missing activist mother. Yet, were there no title card at the front of the film, few would guess that it was product of a man who once filmed a scene of a young solder having his penis set on fire, then presented it in the Cannes Film Festival (the film is 2013’s Heli by the way).

A local cop lies on his deathbed, using his final moments to confess his many crooked deeds. Emiliano (Juan Daniel García Treviño) uses the cover of his recently paralysed pal to wander over shakedown the cop for the location of his mother, who was roughed up for her opposition to the opening of a local mine. He points the driven young lad to a luxury modernist villa out on a lake, currently the abode of conceptual shock artist Rigoberto Duplas (Fernando Bonilla) and pouty social media Mónica Aldama (Ester Expósito).

Emiliano inveigles his way into their house as a handyman. Initially he retains a low profile, but becomes obsessed with discovering what’s inside a hidden water tank, and wondering whether “Rigo” and his fam are all part of a wider hush-up operation. Rigo himself is a mess of nerves, as he has a fundamentalist religious sect on his ass for a work he produced which mocked its late leader, who was convicted and sentenced for child sex crimes.

There’s a clear self-critical element to the film, as Escalante himself could be seen as the artist who wallows around in a dressing gown, fearful of his ability to shock and squaring up to his many detractors. His eventual earnest pitch to make an artwork around Emiliano’s search is what the filmmaker himself has done with this story about the deep, snaking roots of small-town corruption and how it effects those on the lower rungs. It’s a bid for respectability that backfires – also apposite when it comes to this film.

Mónica, too, contains shades of the impish Escalante of yore, racking up the heart emojis for her distasteful videos of faked suicides. The film is certainly compelling, less for the plot revelations themselves, and more for the way they come to light. Yet its conventional and contrived final reel offers an unsatisfactory and unlikely denouement, in which Emiliano is able to find a strange catharsis through the self-annihilating foibles of his celebrity employers. One can’t help but wonder if a little taste of the director’s old nastiness might have left a bigger impression with this one.

Published 20 May 2023

Tags: Amat Escalante Cannes Mexican Cinema

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