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LA CIVIL (2021, MEX) – 9/10

From Mexico comes another impressive film that deals with the most famous issue there. Of course, we are talking about cartels, gangs, criminals who stop at nothing, and one of their main branches of activity is kidnapping. It is interesting that “La Civil” is not a classic Mexican product, but this great combination of crime drama and thriller was filmed in a co-production between Belgium, Romania and Mexico, and the co-writer and director is a Romanian woman with a Belgian address, Teodora Mihai. She wrote the script together with the Mexican writer who also lives in Belgium, Habacuca Antonio de Rosario, who is probably much more familiar and close to the situation with this issue.

Although we have already seen films dealing with a similar theme, “La civil” is a terrible and shocking story filmed in a documentary, almost cinema verite style with a hand-held camera. The plot is set in an unnamed city in the north of Mexico, which is ruled by cartels, and although we constantly see heavily armed policemen and soldiers on the streets, this does not bother the powerful criminals who sow fear and terror. Along with the drug trade, one of the main means of financing these criminals is kidnapping, and one day Laura, the daughter of a single mother named Cielo (the excellent Arcelia Ramirez), will disappear.

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One night she will go to meet her boyfriend, and the next morning Cielo will go in search of her when she will be intercepted by a jeep with two young men who demand a ransom of 150 thousand pesos (about 7000 dollars) and the pick-up of her ex-husband Gustavo if he wants to return her daughter alive. Gustavo (Alvarro Guerrero) left his wife and daughter earlier for the younger one, but he will agree to the demands and collect most of the requested money, but when the money and the pick-up truck are handed over to the kidnappers, the daughter will not appear at the requested place. No one in the town wants to interfere in Ciela’s affairs because they all live in mortal fear of the criminals and hope that they will not be next in line. However, Cielo does not want to give up and does not intend to stop looking for her daughter, regardless of the fact that neither the police nor the local army command stationed there will be of any help to her.


And don’t worry, it’s not one of those Hollywood stories where a middle-aged Machete-style mom takes down the entire cartel, but Mihai has filmed a realistic, poignant and shocking drama that perfectly depicts all the disaster that has loomed over Mexico. That helpless society paralyzed by violence and fear where people have almost Googled all the horrors happening around them and can only hope that they will not be the next on the list of victims. In “La Civil” we also see brilliantly how these cruel, brutal and merciless criminal organizations have spread throughout the country and how there is simply no help and no escape because when one cartel is destroyed, two or three new ones immediately appear.

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When no one dares to help her, Cielo herself will try to find out what happened to her daughter, and this film is great because together with the main protagonist, the viewer enters deeper and deeper into that half-world. Although Cielo is aware of what has practically always been happening around her, she was probably one of those who didn’t interfere much with all that violence and evil, until it got to her. She knew that there were bandits and murderers all around her, but she could not even imagine that it was so widespread, well-established and, what is most terrible of all, that people accepted it as a normal state of affairs. When she finally finds someone who is ready to help her and who is willing to follow the clues she found herself, then the response to that violence will be equally violent and brutal, and definitely this great film premiered in the Un Certain Regard section of Cannes deserves attention.