Review: Life and Nothing More
by Alfonso Rivera
- SAN SEBASTIÁN 2017: From Antonio Méndez Esparza comes this docudrama set in a North American city, where the mother of a difficult teen battles to get by
Antonio Méndez Esparza made his directorial debut with Aquí y allá [+see also:
interview: Pedro Hernández
film profile], filmed in México and a winner at Cannes in 2012. That film marked the birth of a staunch alliance between Esparza and Pedro Hernández (Aquí y Allí Films, the company behind a number of gutsy ventures including Magical Girl [+see also:
interview: Carlos Vermut
film profile], Hablar [+see also:
interview: Joaquín Oristrell
film profile] and The Furies [+see also:
film profile]), who once again gamely stepped up to produce his latest film, Life and Nothing More [+see also:
interview: Antonio Méndez Esparza
film profile]. The docudrama is competing for the Golden Shell in the official section of the San Sebastián International Film Festival, five years after Aqui y allá was featured in Horizontes Latinos.
Written by Méndez Esparza himself, Life and Nothing More captures the everyday reality of a single mother bringing up two children: a boy of 14 and a girl of three. The father is in prison. The boy indulges in various forms of bad behaviour. The mother, who works in a bar, meets a man... You can see the looming domestic conflict a mile off, but the director continues to follow the everyday struggles of this broken family without tacking on extra dramatic frills, allowing the audience to watch events unfold as if we were sitting right there on the worn-out living room sofa. Reality thus steals into every frame in a film that forgoes any soundtrack other than the rumble of the city and abstains from any flashy camera acrobatics.
Life and Nothing More addresses difficult issues like familial roles, absent fathers and the immense challenges of raising children entirely on one’s own in a way that feels intuitive and unforced. The project started out as a portrait of single mother and a broken home, but as filming progressed this microcosm was cracked open by external events, in classic free cinema style. The focus ultimately shifts onto the troubled son, who, as he matures, accepts the need to confront his own pain, to look it in the eye, and is ready to make amends.
The film was shot with minimal crew and the involvement of a number of Méndez Esparza’s film studies students, helping to achieve the sense of intimacy the director was aiming for (Esparza himself has admitted that he makes films like an amateur, and is fascinated by the style of Jim Jarmusch and the Cocteau Diaries). It took the team over a year to cast the strong female lead they wanted, eventually discovering Regina Williams, a barmaid like her character and the mother of four children — but far fierier than the woman she was called on to portray. This may be her first time in front of the camera, but Williams gives such a credible and natural performance that some bookies are backing her as a favourite for Best Actress at the 65th San Sebastián International Film Festival. After leaving San Sebastián, the film, with cinematography by Barbu Balasoiu (Sieranevada [+see also:
Q&A: Cristi Puiu
film profile]) will set sail for festival screenings in Miami, Tokyo, Sau Paulo, Morelia and Chicago.
Life and Nothing More is a co-production between Spain and the United States by Aquí y Allí Films. It will be distributed in Spain by Wanda Visión (the release date is currently set as 1 December) with sales managed by British company Film Constellation.
(Translated from Spanish)
Did you enjoy reading this article? Please subscribe to our newsletter to receive more stories like this directly in your inbox.