Between Night and Day: Film Review

Small-scale Mexican film about a mistreated autistic man is touching and genuine. 

A slow-moving, sensitive and affecting story about an autistic man suffering from mistreatment by his family and isolation from society.

 

Winner of San Sebastian’s Films in Progress workshop last year and named best Mexican first feature at the recent Guanajuato Film Festival, Between Night and Day is a slow-moving, sensitive and ultimately affecting story about an autistic man suffering from mistreatment by his family and isolation from society. This low-budget first film will open doors for writer-director Bernardo Arellano, though its somber subject and minimalist production scale could keep the shades down outside the festival world and special interest screenings. 

Francisco Cruz, an autistic non-pro actor, lends his name to the fictitious hero of the story. At first sight he could pass for the old family servant of a bourgeois family gone to seed. Surprise, the bossy couple Victor and Silvia are not his employers but his brother and sister-in-law, for whom he is made to polish the silver and wash the dishes, Cinderella style. They also make him sleep in a basement storage room and rarely allow him out of the house. Completing the monstrous family is Francisco’s young nephew (Gabino Rodriguez), who turns out to be as callous as his parents.

With his loping walk, his head tilted to one side and never far from an old briefcase full of worthless treasures, the no-longer-young Francisco calls up instant tenderness. In his moments of freedom he hurries to the park, the only place he feels at ease. When he finds a white rat that becomes his secret pet, it furnishes Gothic sourpuss Silvia with the excuse she’s been waiting for to kick him out of the house.

Arellano approaches the story guilelessly, doing nothing to undercut the pathos of the situation or even to dramatize the characters’ interrelationships, which are simply a given. Just when Francisco’s life becomes inhuman and unbearable, the script turns a cathartic, totally unexpected corner and heads into a moving final section that allows him to leap beyond society’s cruelty.

Though he keeps his eyes on the ground or averted, Cruz is a naturally expressive actor with a surprising ability to communicate his individuality within an autistic framework. Like the gentle giant Lennie Small in John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, he loves to stroke the rat’s soft fur, a sign of his deep connection to nature. The film’s title juxtaposes his daytime drudgery to the freedom of the night, when his spirit is loosed in dreams of roaming the park.

In comparison to Cruz, the pro thesps seem stiff and overly directed in comparison, with the exception of Rodriguez’s portrayal of the wavering nephew. Tech work is spare but functional.

 

Venue: San Sebastian Film Festival (Latin Horizons), Sept. 19, 2011.
Production companies: Centro de Capacitation Cinematografica, Nephilim Productions, Agrupacion Caramelo
Cast: Francisco Cruz, Gabino Rodriguez, Carmen Beato, Arcelia Ramirez, Joaquin Cosio
Director: Bernardo Arellano
Screenwriter: Bernardo Arellano
Producer: April Shannon
Director of photography: Damian Agullar
Music: Dario Arellano
Editor: Bernardo Arellano
Sales Agent: Centro de Capacitation Cinematografica
78 minutes.

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