By Piya Sinha-Roy / Pic: REUTERS/Fred Thornhill
LOS ANGELES – A Mexican director’s intense thriller of immigrants pursued by a xenophobic gunman as they try to cross the border into the United States is opening just as the subject of immigration plays a leading role in the U.S. presidential election.
“Desierto,” written and directed by Jonas Cuaron and out in U.S. theaters on Friday, follows the high-stakes journey that a group of Mexicans embark on to cross the border into the United States illegally.
Some are hoping to start a new life while others, such as Gael Garcia Bernal’s Moises, are hoping to reunite with family.
As they traverse the stark and unbearably hot desert wasteland dividing the two countries, a ruthless American vigilante, played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan, whittles down the group with the help of a long-range rifle and a ferocious dog.
“I wanted to tell a story that I felt very close to myself, which is the story both about migration, but also a parable of where we’re going to arrive as a society if we keep promoting so much hatred towards migrants, towards foreigners,” Cuaron told Reuters.
“Desierto” is Mexico’s official Oscar entry this year. Cuaron, the son of Oscar-winning “Gravity” filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron, said it was “wonderful that this film could be part of the discussion in the United States at that level.”
Debuting less than a month before the Nov. 8 U.S. presidential election, “Desierto” has tapped into the heated debate and opposing stances on immigration between the two presidential candidates, Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump.
Clinton has promised to propose broad legislation to overhaul the immigration system and establish a process for undocumented workers to become citizens.
In contrast, Trump launched his presidential campaign with a vow to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexican border and has said he would insist that the United States’ southern neighbor pay for it. He would also require people seeking legal status to leave and reapply.
Morgan, whose vigilante character in the film is motivated to kill by his unabashed hatred towards immigrants, said “everything that Trump said in his speech about immigration was dead wrong.”
Garcia Bernal added: “It is very unfortunate that this high level of hate discourse has been going on.”
“Migration is as natural and as real as we’re both speaking right now, you know, we have to regulate it in a very comprehensive, benign and a very nurturing way,” he said.