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ROME — A stunningly shot slice of Mexican realism, but one that would have fared better had it not leaned so heavily on narrative minimalism, Never Die (Mai morire) is a delicately woven portrait of one woman’s last days alongside her dying grandmother. This second feature from Locarno Golden Leopard laureate Enrique Rivero has less of a genre bent than his 2008 debut, Parque vía, and as such will probably see little exposure outside the festival circuit following a Rome competition premiere. Still, as a meditation on family, ritual and the passing of time, it packs a quiet punch.
Set in and around a wooden shack in the bucolic Mexico City suburb of Xochimilco, the scenario (co-written with Aleka Rivero) can pretty much be summed up in a single line: Chayo (Margarita Saldaña) arrives back home to help her sickly 99-year-old grandmother (Amalia Salas), taking care of household chores and contemplating the inevitable as death looms on the horizon.
Such a subject could easily veer towards pure miserbalism, but Rivero instead takes a sweeter and more subtle approach, infusing his narrative with bits of simple camaraderie and sheer natural beauty as Chayo wanders the landscapes surrounding the house. Although we gradually learn some details about her life, including her troubled marriage to a lethargic local (Juan Chirinos), there are precious little plot points to chew on, which could indeed frustrate viewers unfamiliar with the scaled-down work of directors like Lisandro Alonso or Pedro Costa.
It’s best then to just sit back and enjoy the prodigious filmmaking, most notably the superb widescreen cinematography by Gerardo Barroso and Arnau Valls Colmer, who utilize nuanced lighting and lengthy tracking shots to capture the terrain in rugged but splendid detail. Several haunting sequences are filmed in extended takes from a raft slowly crawling up a nearby river, creating a moody, at times dream-like atmosphere that’s further enhanced by the layered sound design of Alejandro de Icaza.
As formalistic as that may seem, Never Die doesn’t succumb to pure picturesqueness, either. Rather, it forgoes any explanation or commentary to focus on the daily grind and warm relationships of its characters, making for a movie that’s light on story and emotion but rich in aesthetic wonders.
Production companies: Una Comunión, Zamora Films, Simplemente, Celuloide Films
Cast: Margarita Saldaña, Amalia Salas, Juan Chirinos
Director: Enrique Rivero
Screenwriters: Enrique Rivero, Aleka Rivero
Producers: Paola Herrera, Enrique Rivero
Directors of photography: Gerardo Barroso, Arnau Valls Colmer
Art director: Christopher Lagunes
Music: Alejandro de Icaza
Editors: Enrique Rivero, Javier Ruiz Caldera
Sales: Una Comunión
No rating, 82 minutes
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