Antonio Méndez Esparza's assured first feature, "Aquí y Allá" (Here and There), has won festival awards from Mumbai to Thessaloniki, but the story the film tells is just across the border.
Pedro (Pedro De los Santos) has returned to Mexico from his second tour of menial jobs in the States, and like the slow climb up the mountain to his home, re-integration is uphill. His daughters (Lorena Guadalupe Pantaleón Vázquez and Heidi Laura Solano Espinoza) barely know him, though the oldest knows better than to trust him to stick around. His wife (Teresa Ramírez Aguirre) is equally skeptical, though she gets pregnant again, as if a third child might be the family's anchor.
Esparza's cast of unknowns is so fresh and raw that the drama could be mistaken for a documentary if the camera work weren't so controlled — Romanian cinematographer Barbu Balasoiu can make a humble dirt road look like a million dollars, while still making it look like a humble dirt road. The film is driven more by mood than plot, as the pressures fated to force Pedro to abandon his family again are so large and hazy that they're almost impossible to see until they're insurmountable.
What we can see through Esparza's patient lens is a simple, and not particularly interesting, man trying to do right in a world of small favors, big ambitions and tiny indignities, the most wrenching of which is a local hospital that demands he bring his own blood donors. No wonder he needs to leave — but we're fighting with Pedro that he can stay.
"Aquí y Allá." No MPAA rating. Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes. Playing: At AMC Norwalk 20, AMC Ontario Mills 30 and AMC Orange 30