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Symphony of a Sad Sea [Carlos Morales, Mexico, 2017]

Silence can often be an extremely powerful tool in moments of passive resistance, a way to negatively reinforce statements that have been exhausted in other ways to less fruitful ends. With political tensions ever increasing between Donald Trump’s US senate and the Mexican government over the former’s contemptible plans to build a wall border between the two countries, it is the Mexican people’s eerie quiescence rather than Trump’s belligerent, war-dog rhetoric that resonates more powerfully in the minds of the closely watching outsider. But one fears that in the light of these relatively recent provocations, Mexico has become silent in resignation rather than resistance, the kind of resolve that leads to the impression that many would prefer simply to join rather than beat the opposition.

It certainly feels so in Symphony of a Sad Sea, the heart-breaking story of Hugo, a young teenager that we learn was abandoned by his father as a child and, more recently, loses his younger brother to gang violence. Through the camera’s super-wide anamorphic lens, we feel a sense of Hugo’s isolation in this vast sea of violence, crime and poverty. He has left his hometown of Guerrara to safer environs in Tijuana. He is running away from his own guilt and the pains of his past, and yet, despite the film’s overall brooding tone, Hugo is still hopeful of sanctuary in the land of opportunity on the other side of Trump’s slowly developing wall.

To the viewer, it appears a disheartening predicament for somebody who has been ignored and silenced for so long in his own country, to search for hope and meaning in a land who’s policy will do virtually the same. Hugo’s wish to be swallowed up by a whale is initially disturbing in its seemingly fatalistic resolve, before delivering a caveat that appeals towards more magical ends, reasoning that the whale could then spit him out over to the other side of the wall. This is a passionate and spirited account of just one in an entire society of people that share a similarly bleak experience and desperately optimistic outlook.

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