Thursday, April 23, 2020

Thoughts on Rodrigo Reyes' 499 (2020) Tribeca 2020

A conquistador who conquered the Aztecs with Cortez and was on a galleon that sank on the way back to Spain, is tossed out on a beach in Veracruz having skipped across time. Out of his time he then begins to walk across the country toward the capital. When he tries to address some school children like a conqueror he is struck dumb and staggers out. From then on we watch him walk across the country while we listen to his internal monologue (largely about the glories of the terrible things he did) and the stories of people he meets who relate the pains of their lives.

Rodrigo Reyes' film is a punch in the face. It is a bracing look at imperialism then and now as well as a heartbreaking look at the state of Mexico. This film will make you wince and think and then wince some more. This is a tale of the cruelties Mexico has suffered since it was first invaded. Far from a feel good film it is a deeply troubling portrait of a country full of poverty and violence. It is a tale that echoes the wider and broader damning drift the human condition seems to be taking.

As  the  unnamed conquistador wanders the country we hear numerous tales, almost all of them are tragic. It begins when a man talks of his father who was killed for being a journalist and activist. It  then seques into a field of discarded police vehicles, a chilling warning that law and order is often optional. The film then travels across the country as we see bullfighting, the search for a long missing son,  a hired gun who will do anything for money and it ends with a mother talks of her missing daughter and knowing she was dead finding her shoe, blood and skin.

Repeatedly, I wanted to talk to the screen but my words simply couldn't come out. I was in shock of the sort you go into when you see something terrible before your eyes.

You will forgive me if I don't say a lot. My brain is firing with all sorts of random and half formed ideas and they are colliding with the sadness and melancholy churning in my chest. I know as a writer and reviewer I'm supposed to have answers and to put things into context, but this film is too strong too powerful for me to hope to do so after a single viewing. Worse I wanted to get a review up in  a timely manner.  Honestly this is a film I am going to have to sit with, and ponder for a while. It is a film I will have to try to get the courage up to go back and see, because I don't know if I want to be that wiped out again.

Yes, it is a masterpiece. Yes, it is highly recommended. Yes, it is a film that does what the best cinema does, which is dare you to think and feel about things you don't want to. I don't know if 499 will be a film that you like but it will be a film that will leave a scar and change the way you see the world.


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