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Film Reviews


Quietly Devastating (Review: IDENTIFYING FEATURES)

A film that portrays the topic of immigration borders without frontlining drug wars - and not only that, but from the perspective of a mother - is a rare find. Director Fernanda Valadez's IDENTIFYING FEATURES fits that shoe perfectly, giving a quietly devastating depiction of a mother's fear for her own, and a glimpse into the horrors of immigration.

Magdalena (Mercedes Hernández) watched her son, Jesús (Juan Jesús Varela) leave two months ago with his friend, Rigo (Armando García) to cross the border from Mexico to America. She has not heard from him since. When she and Rigo's mother go to the authorities to search for their sons, they are given a binder full of photos of unidentified bodies, victims of militia attacks. The women find Rigo's body, but not Jesús. And so, Magdalena sets off on a lonesome journey full of uncertainty and danger to find her son.

Along the way, Magdalena connects with Miguel (David Illescas), a young man whose deportation from the US has sent him home to his family. Miguel's return home reveals a desolate, militia-scarred place, with no living being in sight. But those who have harmed Magdalena and Miguel's respective families are still out there, and for Magdalena, at least, the journey continues. As the film follows her footsteps in retracing her son's path, the dread grows thick in the air. We all know this is not going to end well.

Valadez plays off of that growing dread with sparse dialogue, no musical score, and a cast that delivers incredibly nuanced performances. The film's quiet nature is what really sets the tone, making it impossible to avoid the gravity and discomfort of the story.

The Mexican/Spanish film collected multiple awards at its premiere at this year's Sundance Film Festival, and deserves every accolade thrown at it. IDENTIFYING FEATURES is now available to stream at

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