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Mostro is a couple of different ideas mashed together — an experimental light show and a slice-of-life drama. The light show is interesting to a certain formal extent while the realism eventually strains the viewer’s patience. Even at a fleet seventy-seven minutes, this Mexican portrait of wayward and forgotten youths, albeit ambitious at its most visually expressive, didn’t do much for me at all.
Lucas (Salvador de la Garza) has lost his girlfriend. They were hanging out in a little shack, taking drugs, then the police arrived and she was apparently taken. He works in a factory and balances the difficulty of doing his day job with trying to figure out where she has actually gone. Her disappearance is the animating absence behind the film, an arthouse conceit that brings to mind L’Aventurra (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1960) and the work of Abbas Kiarostami.
Mostro takes a kitchen-sink stylistic approach, combining low-light nighttime shaky-cam scenes with impressive tracking shots and expressive portraits of memories, lights and colour melding together to create a vivid conception of memory, identity and relationships. But as the film moves from a contemplative and picturesque mode into a character study, we rarely understand what make Lucas tick besides his humdrum work lifting things on a factory floor.
Lucas doesn’t fundamentally change throughout the movie. He is the same depressed and unresponsive person whether he is in the throes of love with his girl or whether he is frantically searching for her. This lack of development makes it hard to sympathise with his plight. While de la Garza provides fine work, especially in the more frantic scenes, it would’ve helped to get more under his skin other than through vague voiceover and cryptic flashbacks. More interesting is his confrontation with the police, who seem particularly blasé about where his girlfriend has gone or the manner of her disappearance. If the film dug deeper into the indifference of bureaucracy, it could’ve been a piercing critique, but this is quickly passed over in favour of more deeply held close ups and thinly light portraits.
Nonetheless, the wider context of teenage disappearance — a national issue in Mexico — doesn’t seem to interest first-time director José Pablo Escamilla that much, who has a keen eye for striking mise-en-scène, but few ideas to keep the thematic clock ticking. The aforementioned experimental moments seem to vanish by the later half of the film, creating a secondary stylistic absence that make one wonder why they existed in the first place – either the two styles blend by the end, or they create a strange dichotomy; here they seem to barely relate to each other.
Lucas must return to his job, suffering the inequities of oppressive managers while worried sick, creating a vivid critique about how capitalism at its most acute cannot let people rest. Sadly, whether shot in the dark or caught on headache-inducing shaky-cam, Lucas’ strife becomes difficult to genuinely care about. With little closure and a whispy finale, Mostro’s formally ambitious conceits amount to a lot of style about nothing much at all.
Mostro plays in the Concorso Cineasti del presente at Locarno Film Festival, running from August 4-15th .