After serving as an editor for Mexican auteurs like Carlos Reygadas (Silent Light, Post Tenebras Lux) and Amat Escalante (Heli), Natalia López Gallardo takes a flip behind the digicam with Robe of Gems, a movie that bears the imprint of the administrators she’s collaborated with whereas looking fairly nebulously for its personal distinct voice.
Exquisitely photographed by Adrián Durazo, additionally making his solo characteristic debut (he was co-credited on Reygadas’ Our Time), the film makes an attempt to strike a stability between elliptical artwork home drama and gritty narcocorrido, with a fragmented narrative set in opposition to a backdrop of kidnappings and murders that aren’t precisely simple to hint.
Robe of Gems
The Bottom Line
A boldly directed debut that’s extra elusive than efficient.
López Gallardo reveals a eager eye for the damaging magnificence of recent Mexico, with our bodies popping up in sun-drenched rubbish dumps or burning alive on hilltops, bathing in murky swimming swimming pools or gyrating to techno below neon lights. But she tends to eschew easy storytelling for one thing so elusive that her movie almost escapes us for its first half, till the items progressively match collectively and we handle to make some sense of the plot, if not fully what the director goes for.
There are two teams of characters to observe on the identical time, however fairly than explaining how precisely they’re all linked, López Gallardo slowly immerses us of their worlds and solely later will we perceive, roughly, what has been taking place to them.
One clan consists of Isabel (Nailea Norvind), a wealthy “blondie,” as she’s pejoratively known as by some folks, who’s moved along with her children (Sherlyn Zavala Diaz, Balam Toledo) to the modernist nation villa owned by her aristocratic mom. Her husband is round at first however then disappears from the image, and from what we will inform Isabel is within the midst of some sort of midlife or marital disaster, maybe each on the identical time.
The different group consists of Isabel’s longtime household maid, María (Antonia Olivares), who’s grieving over the lack of her sister, whom we come to know was kidnapped a sure time in the past. For unclear causes, María has been working with a band of narcos that features the younger Adán (Daniel García) — a rising gangster whose personal mom, Roberta (Aida Roa), is a policewoman caught up in a corrupt system.
In all transparency, it was tough to explain the above plot with out referring to the movie’s official synopsis, and also you get that feeling that López Gallardo purposely averted readability to make one thing extra cryptic and ephemeral. Certain scenes are shot in such a approach that you just’re not all the time positive who’s speaking, or whom they’re speaking about, because the digicam glides across the characters to seize particulars of life that aren’t essentially important to the story.
The opening scene, through which we watch the villa’s caretaker toiling within the backyard whereas listening to unusual noises off-screen, solely to reverse angles and understand that Isabel and her husband have been participating in unloving intercourse in opposition to the window, is an ideal instance of the distancing method used all through a lot of Robe of Gems. (By the way in which, what’s “Robe of Gems” even referring to? The title eludes us as nicely, or a minimum of eluded this reviewer.)
Things tackle extra focus within the movie’s second half, when Isabel decides to go on a mission (ostensibly to assist discover María’s sister, although once more it’s unsure) and runs into some actual bother of her personal. Some of the strongest scenes, a minimum of when it comes to the stress López Gallardo creates, contain Isabel dealing with untold risks in a land she hardly understands. The class variations appear to run so deep in Mexico that she seems to be a vacationer in her personal nation, or in any case, within the a part of the nation she’s determined to quiet down in.
Such fleeting moments and impressions aren’t fairly sufficient to tug the movie collectively by the point it ends, leaving us with a vaguely tormented feeling fairly than a bang, even when the final picture is a robust one which sticks in your thoughts. The twin influences of Reygadas, with all of the equivocal, stylized directing, and Escalante, with the cruder moments of violence, are evident all through Robe of Gems, but it seems like López Gallardo wasn’t capable of finding the proper path between them. She forges her personal daring approach, however loses us a bit within the course of.