Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Antonio Méndez Esparza’s debut feature is an unfortunate concoction, blowing the opportunity to say something about his native Mexico and instead settling for what feels like an auto-art-film that’s formally sluggish, irredeemably undermining those elements throughout which do work. Some of the more pleasant scenes in Here and There admittedly aren’t concerned with much, at least on the surface; locked-off takes of family patriarch Pedro (Pedro De los Santos) playing and listening to music with his wife and children are imbued with meaning through the potent lyrics, clearly informed by Pedro’s own struggle to provide for his own family, one which continues throughout the entirety of the film.

For its many flaws, this is a well-performed piece by a largely unprofessional cast, with the children particularly playing unexpectedly naturalistic. Santos, playing a character sharing his own name, imbues him with a quietly dignified sadness, particularly during the film’s compelling mid-section, in which he has to procure medication out of his own pocket for his ill, pregnant wife, and then find eight blood donors able to help her recuperate after complications arise. Esparza’s indictment of Mexico’s insufficient healthcare system is slyly powerful, though regrettably the only such portion of the film.

Esoteric titles segment the film into a number of sections such as “The Return”, “Here” and “The Horizon”, but all they do is revoke the film’s accessibility even further; countless portions of the film, especially those exploring young love, feel woefully disconnected from the whole, and though Esparza avoids grand melodrama throughout, the small emotional substance we can glean from the film simply is not enough. Depicting the hardships of the Mexican underclass should not be difficult for a director with an evidently keen visual pedigree, yet Esparza and his editor appear to be their own worst enemies, and by the end, it simply peters out. If you can remember much the day after seeing it, give yourself a pat on the back.

An excessively formalistic approach does Antonio Méndez Esparza little favours in his bloated, flavourless feature debut.

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This article was first posted on October 11, 2012