Review: La Civil

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Title: La Civil
MPAA Rating: R
Director: Teodora Mihai
Starring: Arcelia Ramírez, Álvaro Guerrero, Jorge A. Jimenez
Runtime: 2 hr 20 mins

What It Is: Based on a real-life event that took place over three years in Mexico, 2014, La Civil centers around single mother Cielo (Ramírez). Her bright teenage daughter Laura, who’s close to her mother, leaves to see her boyfriend. Shortly after Cielo is confronted by two young men who nonchalantly tell her that Laura has been kidnapped by a gang and in exchange for her safe return, Cielo must give them a large sum of money. Terrified for her daughter’s safety, Cielo rushes to her verbally abusive, flippant ex-husband Gustavo to help her meet the demands. Nearly getting the amount demanded of them and expecting to be able to negotiate, Gustavo goes with Cielo to hand over the money, only to find the retrievers take their truck and the sum, with no further word. Worried that they made the situation worse by not turning in the whole price demanded of them, Cielo fears the worse. The gang demands even more money, and Cielo and Gustavo try to meet it, with no further response. With Gustavo and the authorities as little help, the gang continuing to terrorize her into staying quiet, and time being of the essence, Cielo takes it upon herself to do the dangerous job of finding where Laura could be.

What We Think: I went in cold. I had no idea this had anything to do with anything having happened in real life. Starting out, it appears to be another one of those cold, quiet, naturalistic dramas that could have potential, but often end up being half-pandering festival fodder that don’t nearly push the envelope enough. Again, this was honestly what I was thinking, as at this point having seen as many contemporary indie dramas as I have, it’s beginning to feel quite common. So the movie goes on, the plot is established, and the drive that the protagonist Cielo has is instantly attention-grabbing. You do feel sympathetic to the scare she’s experiencing, and of course, you hope she turns up with something helpful concerning her daughter. And then the stakes heighten. Help is scarce. She pushes even harder. And it just keeps snowballing. She keeps fighting harder and harder to find her daughter, and I found myself there with her, terrified. It’s enthralling and intense, and you realize the scope and danger goes far deeper and gets way scarier than it first appears. It’s clear Laura is just one girl out of many whose disappearance is drowned out by numbers and the helplessness Cielo feels is palpable. To see her take it upon herself makes for some sort of satisfaction, as she does all can and turns up with incredible facets of information, considering names, faces, and locations. Cielo is led to work with a militia group, who reveal themselves as being just as capable of torture, suffering, and destruction as any of the gangs. Nonetheless, Cielo continues on her war, descending further and further into a real-life Hell. There were many moments where we follow Cielo and I felt absolutely disgusted and terrified of the lack of humanity at any given point, and it feels like it can only get worse. And it does. I realized and remember this was and continues to be a very real, very horrible circumstance that creates so many victims. The way you see her and other women be treated detestably and unfairly without reason, constantly cornered and infantilized, is entirely real and haunting. You feel trapped with them. Your heart beats with them. You feel how hard Cielo is pushing with her soul to find Laura, or at least, what’s left of her.

Every time I wake up, I want to kill or die. This is how I feel every morning.”

The director was inspired to make the film based on this quote, spoken by Miriam Rodríguez Martínez, the very woman this movie was based off of. Often, when movies are based off of true events, I find they don’t shape up to reality and find the real story and details far more interesting. This was a unique case in which apparently the film was originally designed as a documentary, but it was too dangerous to involve Martínez’s face or film where the events took place. Not to mention even more unfortunately, shortly after director Teodora Mihai had interviewed her, Martínez herself had also been murdered.

The way this film and its fantastic lead actress captivates you in a tight space feels closest to reality. It doesn’t feel overdramatized, in fact, I was put-off from the beginning from how there was no score. By the end of the first act I began to realize it wasn’t that kind of movie. It’s a movie that doesn’t just want to simulate the real story as closely as possible, it wants you to experience the feeling of it. The weight of losing Laura feels fucking personal, and massive, because it’s not just Laura. It’s Cielo, it’s Miriam. It’s all the real women and families victimized by the cartel, by boys brainwashed into thinking they’re machismo soldiers providing for their own families, it’s the useless authorities and government who, like in America, can’t or won’t contain the corruption and violence.

Our Grade: A, A heartbreakingly unshakable, infuriating, must-see film about a woman’s real-life nightmare, La Civil accomplishes everything it needs to in order to express the tragedy of these not-uncommon incidents in Mexico. It’s eye-opening, involving, and competently-made. The performance by Ramírez is rage-inducing in tribute to the real woman who did more for her daughter and other victims of gang-related violence than the authorities themselves. I can’t say enough good about this amazing, painful film, and I press that everyone should read up on the real-life story and watch this incredible movie. It even received a whole eight minute standing ovation at Cannes, which is more than deserved, but if anything, deserves more awareness to direct eyes to the issue as well.

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