3 August 2009

LOS BASTARDOS / THOSE BASTARDS (Dir. Amat Escalante, 2008, Mexico/France/US) - The invisible work force

Fausto and Jesus as two invisible migrant workers in Los Angeles.

Borders are the invisible lines arbitrarily drawn across the face of the planet – some are permanent, others more fluid but what they breed internally is a fearsome contempt for others, a brand of ugly nationalism and an impulse to protect what you have accumulated in the face of wider poverty and dispossession. No where is this more apparent than the porous US-Mexico border; such is the infinite separation between Mexico and the US, both in terms of economics and class, that the tragic story of the despairing Mexican immigrant has become somewhat of a universal symbol, representative of a new underclass. Produced by Mexican auteur and festival favourite Carlos Reygadas, ‘Los Bastardos’ is the second full length feature of Amat Escalante who served as second unit director on Reygadas’ 2005 film, ‘Battle in Heaven’.

Fausto and Jesus are two Mexican ‘illegal’ (such terms of reference and glib categorisation used by the government are deliberately dehumanising) migrant workers attempting to forge a life in the city of Los Angeles. They turn up each morning with other desperate workers only to be faced with an exploitative middle class who offer them casual day labour. Escalante refuses to offer any kind of satisfying back story or narrative exposition for the central characters – the separation that occurs on screen between the Mexican workers and the exploitative white American middle class is reflected in our own difficulty identifying with Fausto and Jesus who are deliberately underwritten so that they remain as invisible as they first appear in the opening long take. The second half of the film turns uglier and more violent, drawing heavily on Michael Haneke’s ‘Funny Games’ as we witness Fausto and Jesus break in to a nondescript suburban home with a shotgun and subject a depressed mother, Karen, to a series of agonising rituals. At one point it seems as though both Fausto and Jesus are attempting to feel like what it is to be American and middle class – this is why we see them performing banal everyday acts like eating a microwave ready meal, using drugs for recreational purposes, watching television and taking a dip in the swimming pool.

The director Amat Escalante worked as an assistant for Carlos Reygadas.

Escalante may be critical of the way migrant workers are discriminated against and treated but he is also suggesting that the aspirations of the American dream and materialist longings which define capitalist culture actually belie a wounding and tragic emptiness. I’m not sure if this film was released in the UK but it has surfaced on DVD in the US and is available as an import. The title to the film ‘Los Bastardos’ translates as ‘Those Bastards’ but I’m entirely sure in what context one should read this – is it a derogatory term used by Americans when referring to migrant workers or is it an expression of the hate Fausto and Jesus feel towards those who exploit?

Here is the official trailer for the film:

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