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Desierto review by Rashid Irani: Catch it while you can

Illegal immigrants stranded in the desert are being hunted by an American vigilante. Desierto is the work of a major new talent in contemporary cinema.

movie reviews Updated: Nov 12, 2016 11:43 IST
Rashid Irani
Desierto is directed by Mexican filmmaker Jonas Cuaron, who co-wrote Gravity with his father, Alfonso Cuaron.
Desierto is directed by Mexican filmmaker Jonas Cuaron, who co-wrote Gravity with his father, Alfonso Cuaron. (Photo Courtesy STX Entertainment)

DESIERTO

Direction: Jonas Cuaron

Actors: Gael Garcia Bernal, Jeffrey Dean Morgan

Rating: 4.5 / 5

Desierto (Spanish for Desert) follows a group of illegal Mexican immigrants as they try to cross the border into the United States. Their mission is thwarted when their transport vehicle breaks down, forcing them to make their way across inhospitable desert terrain on foot.

A gripping film, Desierto could not be more relevant. And it’s rendered exquisitely by Mexican filmmaker Jonas Cuaron, who co-wrote Gravity with his father Alfonso Cuaron (one of the producers here). Incidentally, this is Jonas’s second feature. His 2007 debut, Year of the Nail, never made it to our multiplexes.

The faint-hearted might find the violence a tad excessive. But from its opening scene to its final frames, Desierto is mesmerising.

Back to the immigrants, the tension is skilfully ratcheted up after they run in to an American zealot (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) who has taken the laws of border patrol into his own hands. With his high-powered rifle and vicious dog, the vigilante starts to pick off the migrants one by one.

In one chilling scene, he mutters “Welcome to the land of the free” as he guns down one of the group.

As a breakaway smaller group, led by a deported mechanic (Gael Garcia Bernal), struggles to escape, Jonas’s film takes on a documentary-like authenticity.

Watch Trailer 1 for Desierto

Faint-hearted viewers may find the violence a tad excessive. Also, the relationship between the chivalrous group leader and a Mexican travelling companion (Alondra Hidalgo) is perfunctory.

But on the whole, the manhunt narrative is comparable to the great Hollywood westerns of yesteryear.

From its stunning opening scene to the mesmerising final frames, Desierto is the work of a major new talent in contemporary cinema. Catch it while you can.

Watch Trailer 2 for Desierto