La civil, an inexorable search on the edge of realism and fiction

There is no manual for immediate and timely emotional reaction to the announcement of the disappearance, abduction or kidnapping of a loved one. There is no procedure, there is no consolation in the face of such sudden, bitter and urgent news. What do you do when life as it is known threatens to dissolve and the only important thing at that moment is not to collapse? Who can be trusted at a time when instinct demands that you trust no one? Nobody prepares us for that.

In the film La civil, directed by the former Belgian-Romanian documentary filmmaker Teodora Mihai, the actress Arcelia Ramírez plays Cielo, a mother who without even realizing it is notified by a couple of young criminals, not to mention children, about the kidnapping of his only daughter, Laura, and about the amount in hundreds of thousands of pesos that he is obliged to pay for his release.

There is no time for lamentations or backwaters. For more than two hours, the window to history does not take off from Heaven, it always follows her, camera on her shoulder, on several occasions for long sequences. The viewer is immersed in the labyrinth of Heaven while it loses power over its privacy, becomes a tracker in wakefulness, in a state of paranoia, who feels observed, watched, with life hanging by a thread, and everything at her Around him he enters a state of anomie, in which violence, victimization, machismo are multidirectional.

But now it does not matter who points what weapon at him, how many executions he has to witness, who he has to violate, how many bodies have to be searched, the search for his daughter (or at least some news) is already inexorable.

The civilian is inspired by the story of the search for justice of the Tamaulipas activist Miriam Rodríguez after the kidnapping of her daughter Karen in 2012. It is an approximation, an artistic interpretation of the internal process of a person whose only need is to find out the integrity of the being that more loves, despite so many and repeated null responses, from the perpetrators, those responsible for seeking justice, the army or the closest friends and relatives who seem resigned without first fighting, subdued by fear or so indifferent that they are outrageous.

For this histrionic work, underpinned by a remarkable aesthetic treatment from the direction, Arcelia Ramírez won those widely publicized eight minutes of applause at the recent edition of the Cannes Film Festival and the film won the Courage Prize in the Un Certain Regard section.

Make fiction with documentary resources

This co-production from Belgium, Mexico and Romania, written by the Tamaulipas scriptwriter and novelist Habacuc Antonio de Rosario, will have its premiere this weekend at the Morelia International Film Festival (FICM). In this context, the director and the scriptwriter gave a conference to discuss the details of the film.

The film, Mihai specified, is based on and not inspired by the story of Miriam Rodríguez, which allowed an aesthetic and rhythmic treatment, with an artistic imprint for the benefits of a cinematographic work that, according to the director, could be functional both for moviegoers who they love action as for those opted for auteur cinema. It took seven years of work from the investigation to the premiere at Cannes.

“I do not consider myself neither a documentary filmmaker nor a fiction author. I am a filmmaker. The genres and labels do not appeal to me, ”shared the director. “With La civil I wanted to make a documentary and I realized that it was not the way to tell this story, because fiction was going to give us the freedom to say what we wanted and the security of being able to say it (…) the process of find the right balance between the roots of reality and the creativity that fiction gives you to give it its essence ”.

For his part, Habacuc Antonio complemented: “we wanted it to be a true story, because we met Miriam and we wanted to tell it first-hand. We walk a little line between reality and fiction. Our intention was to move from a personal story. Teodora wanted to follow Cielo from start to finish. The story had to be written so that she was in all the scenes, that the camera was close to her all the time, see her point of view ”.

The camera on the shoulder is a recurring style in the observational documentary, said the director, in which the character is pursued, taking care not to lose detail of the unexpected. “I also used a lot of sequence shots because I wanted the viewer to be able to feel what Cielo feels, how he almost suffocates with anguish. This is how tension is created and sympathy is generated towards the character ”.

In addition, it is a story of emancipation, Mihai reflects, but also about the crossing of moral limits in which the victim practically becomes a perpetrator, which also allows the affective contrasts of those who previously seemed deprived of all morality. “Because having only black and white characters does not say anything about reality,” he concluded.


What the critics said:

  • Direction: Teodora Ana Mihai
  • Year: 2021
  • Country: Belgium, Mexico, Romania
  • Screenplay: Antonio Habacuc de Rosario, Teodora Mihai
  • Fotografia: Moors Panduru
  • Performance: Arcelia Ramírez, Álvaro Guerrero, Jorge A. Jiménez, Juan Daniel García
  • Duration: 140 min.

Screening at the FICM:

  • Matamoros Theater, Morelia
  • 30th of October
  • 20:30 hours

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