The Box [La Caja] by Golden Lion Winner Lorenzo Vigas is now available for viewing via MUBI on Friday, November 11. It was a favorite at numerous film festivals, including Venice, Toronto, San Sebastian, BFI London, San Francisco, and Miami. The film is Venezuela’s submission for Best International Feature Film at the 2023 Academy Awards®
The Box (La caja) is the psychological thriller and latest feature film from Venezuelan writer-director Lorenzo Vigas which had its world premiere in the official competition at the Venice Film Festival. It is written by Vigas and Paula Markovitch. Set in the harsh landscape of northern Mexico, The Box is Vigas’ third and last installment of his fiction trilogy on the theme of the father figure after the 2004 short film Elephants Never Forget, which premiered at Cannes Critics’ Week, and his 2015 debut feature From Afar, winner of the Golden Lion Award at the Venice Film Festival, marking a first for a Latin American film. The Box offers a slow-burn complex psychological thriller around paternity while taking a critical look at Mexico’s maquiladora system.
I read the synopsis for the film and thought I was prepared for this thriller, knowing full well this choice the young 7th grade teen is making is so wrong on many levels. I didn’t make it until the 30-minute mark of viewing the film and took a pause for a deep breath anticipating the worse for this young adolescent who so desperately wants to have his father in his life. He is looking on so innocently as his newfound father figure offers, food, lodging, sweaters, appearing to be generous, but little does he know what he is becoming a part of. I also wasn’t expecting the pep talk the new workers were given about the competition they are to be up against, especially the “taking our jobs” in a different manner than what is heard in the USA. I kept imagining the angst the grandmother is going through on the other end of the phone, knowing she has lost one son and may not see her grandson soon.
This is not a world that anyone would want to see daily, especially when it comes to the point of having this minor help participate in misdeeds, and worse, end up using a shovel and told not to ask questions. I can’t say more to avoid spoilers, but this is an emotional ride that may not yield tears, but hits so hard.
Synopsis: The Box tells the story of Hatzín (played by the non-professional newcomer Hatzín Navarrete), a young teenager from Mexico City who travels to northern Mexico to collect the remains of his father, which have been found in a communal grave amidst huge skies and an empty landscape. On the way home, Hatzín spots a man and is instantly convinced he is his father. Adamant, he forces his way into the man’s life and becomes involved in what he believes is the family business—the exploitative recruitment of factory workers. Hatzín soon finds himself in a high-stakes, blood-laced coming of age story. While his identity crisis is common to most adolescents, this one is told in the context of a country where so many missing persons are found in communal graves, converting it into a collective identity crisis.
Shot by acclaimed Chilean cinematographer Sergio Armstrong (Pablo Larraín films Ema and The Club), and has excellent scenes, both close up and landscape that capture this teen’s journey and determination.
Cast: Hatzin Navarrete (Hatzin), Hernán Mendoza (Mario), Elián González (Richi), Cristina Zulueta (Mario’s wife), Dulce Alexa Alfaro (Laura), Graciela Beltrán (Laura’s mother).
Produced by the award-winning Mexican director Michel Franco (Chronic, New Order)
The Box premieres on MUBI on Friday, November 11.
THE BOX. (La caja), Venezuela/Mexico/USA, 2021, 92 min. In Spanish with English subtitles.