With her film Robe of Gems, Natalia Lopez Gallardo takes a turn behind the camera. It bears the imprint of the directors she's collaborated with while looking for its own distinct voice.
Adrian Durazo, a talented artist and a producer for Reygadas' Our Time, has shot a balance between elliptical art house drama and gritty narcocorrido, with a fragmented narrative juxtaposed with kidnappings and murders.
Venue: Nailea Norvind, Antonia Olivares, Aida Roa, Juan Daniel Garcia Trevio, Sherlyn Zavala Diaz Director, screenwriter: Natalia Lopez Gallardo
Lopez Gallardo reveals a keen eye for the destructive beauty of modern Mexico, with bodies lying in sun-drenched garbage dumps or burning alive on hilltops, bathing in murky swimming pools or gyrating to techno under neon lights. But her film is largely silent until the pieces come together and we begin to make some sense of the plot, if not entirely what the director is going for.
Lopez Gallardo slowly immerses us in their worlds only later do we understand more or less what has been happening to them.
Isabel (Nailea Norvind), a rich "blondie," is aristocratic grandmother who has moved to a modernist country villa. Her husband is there at first but then disappears from the picture, and from what we can tell Isabel is in the midst of a mid-life or marital crisis, perhaps both at the same time.
Mara (Antonia Olivares) is a long-time family maid and has been battling a corrupt system.
In all transparency, it was difficult to describe the above plot without referring to the film's official synopsis. This is because Lopez Gallardo avoided clarity to make something more cryptic and ephemeral. Certain scenes are shot in such a way that youre not always sure whos talking, or who theyre talking about.
The opening scene, in which we watch the villa's caretaker snatching in the garden while hearing strange noises off-screen, is an ideal example of the distancing techniques used throughout much of Robe of Gems.
Isabel decides to take on a mission to help Mara's sister, though again it's unresolved, and has to face extreme hardships in a state she hardly understands. The class differences appear to run so deep in Mexico that she appears to be a tourist in the country she's decided to settle in.
The two influences of Reygadas, with all the equivocal, stylized directing, and Escalante, with the cruder moments of violence, are evident throughout Robe of Gems, yet it feels like Lopez Gallardo wasnt able to follow the correct path between them.