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Film Review: The Inheritors

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Vienna International Film Festival

VIENNA -- Four years after his shattering debut "Tropic of Cancer," photographer-turned-director Eugenio Polgovsky returns with another tough, rewarding glimpse into northern Mexico's hard-scrabble realities with "The Inheritors." Though a notch below his first movie -- a genuine masterpiece -- the picture confirms Polgovsky as a major talent. Commercial prospects for such unadorned, uncompromising, video-shot fare may be regrettably dim in the current economic climate, but festivals and adventurous TV-buyers must check it out.

Whereas "Tropic" concentrated on a single family in a single geographic location, "The Inheritors" ("Los herederos") ranges across the countryside. Here we find children as laborers, toiling in oft-hazardous conditions long regarded as unacceptable in numerous wealthier countries worldwide, but depressingly prevalent in many corners of the 21st-century globe. As with "Tropic," Polgovsky's approach is spartan in its simplicity: no score, narration or title-cards, and little dialogue and even then only partially English-subtitled.

But the sights and sounds he intimately captures speak, most eloquently, for themselves, and the viewer is able to glean much about the general and specific situations via deduction, context and implication. For example, there's the fact that the children themselves generally seem pretty content, happily smiling into the camera, in the manner of kids in all types of societies.

But rather than being a reassuramce, this detail is, we realize, chilling: These lads and lasses have clearly never known any other kind of life, and so don't know that another world, one involving education, relaxation and carefree play, exists. The film is, above all, a sobering a tribute to their persistence, patience, resilience and resourcefulness.

The mere existence of the movie itself is an indictment: Those in charge of employing the children (for unspecified wages) clearly don't see anything wrong with the activity. We deduce that what we're seeing is probably entirely "lawful" and perhaps regarded as an economic necessity, with countless working-age adults presumably having crossed the Mexico/U.S. border in search of better opportunities. That doesn't make it any less shameful. This is awareness-raising documentary cinema at its most urgent and necessary.

Production company: Tecolote Films.
Director: Eugenio Polgovsky.
Producer: Eugenio Polgovsky.
Director of photography: Eugenio Polgovsky.
Editor: Eugenio Polgovsky.
Music: Banda mixe de Oaxaca.
Sales Agent: Tecolote Films, Mexico City.
No rating, 90 minutes.