Spanish Film Festival: Upon Open Sky

Spanish Film Festival: Upon Open Sky Rating

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Upon Open Sky is a Mexican crime drama set in the 90s, mainly in the Coahuila desert, an arid expanse covering much of the border between Mexico and the US. It is based on a screenplay by Guillermo Arriaga, the Mexican novelist and screenwriter who received an award at Cannes for his The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada in 2005. The film is the directorial debut of his two children, Mariana and Santiago Arriaga.

In a prelude, we see a father and son embarking on a hunting trip. They are full of anticipation, and the boy relishes the time with his father. An emphatically final accident happens. The screen goes black. The sound tells us the other vehicle drove off.

Fast forward to two years later, we see two upper-middle-class teenage boys, Salvador (Theo Goldin) and his older brother Fernando (Maximo Hollander), still grieving the loss of their father. They live with their mother, stepfather, and stepsister, Paula (Federica Garcia).

Short-fused Fernando haunts the local wrecker’s yard, doing amateur forensic reconstructions of car accidents, an obsession he is unable to shake, along with the anger that fuels his search for the driver of the truck that collided with his father’s car. He locates the man and persuades his younger brother to go on a revenge road trip. Salvador, who was with his father in the accident, says he does not remember what happened.

The trauma of the accident becomes so heavy they decide to go to the place where it occurred to find an explanation for what happened. The parents leave on a holiday, and the siblings take off to the Mexican border.

Joined by the pretty, telenovela-obsessed Paula, who they barely know, and her boyfriend, Eduardo, initially oblivious to the brothers’ intentions, the siblings embark on a tense journey into adulthood, which has them come to terms with losing their father. Paula has deep pockets and expensive tastes, so the boys find themselves travelling in style.

Spanish Film Festival: Upon Open Sky

She seems unfazed by the discovery that her stepbrothers have stolen her father’s gun. The siblings are withdrawn, and Paula’s motivations are opaque. For each, the trip means something different: for Fernando, revenge, and for Salvador, closure. Eduardo sees it as an opportunity to sleep with Paula. She may just be bored or want to fit in with her newly found family.

Paula’s mother died when she was a baby, so there are no memories or ghosts. Paula appears spoiled and only looks alive when teasing her brothers. Halfway through the film, we find Paula is not just a sexual ornament; she is an important part of the story, with enough weight to provoke reactions.

Theo Goldin deserves a special note as Salvador. He is convincing, quiet, and thoughtful for most of the film. Despite being the youngest, he shows better judgment and acts with poise.

Upon Open Sky is a road movie and a coming-of-age. Sometimes, it is a Western, shown by the concealed revolver, the van they drive and the clothes they wear. The landscape is shown in panorama and small details. The score from Ludovico Einaudi aids in giving a mood to the unforgiving backdrop. This is a powerful thriller imbued with youthful rage that questions forgiveness and love within the family as each character learns about themselves and the world.

The action and relationships are also on the move while on the road. The outcome is not overdone, which is uncommon in Mexican cinema. It’s as if the directors discover, along with the siblings, that maturity comes not with revenge but self-restraint.

This review also appears on It’s On The House. Check out more reviews at Whats The Show to see what else is on in your town.

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