Thursday, January 01, 2015


Where can you hide an extra body where it won’t be noticed? A mass grave might work, if you have access. According to his solid intelligence, a forensic anthropologist knows with certainty there is a surplus corpse at his latest excavation, but identifying it will be the agonizingly tricky part. The past becomes a torturous burden in Héctor Gálvez’s NN, which screens this weekend at the 2015 Palm Springs International Film Festival.

Fidel’s team had multiple sources identifying the location of the grave and its occupants. The man in the blue sweater was not supposed to be there. There are no papers or distinctive markings on the skeletal remains, except for a photo of a woman in her twenties. Graciela is a presumed widow, who believes the body might be her long missing husband. She gets some of its circumstantial details correct, but others do not quite match up. Nevertheless, she holds out hope for closure through a DNA test.

Even though Fidel is not a touchy-feely sort of person, he forms an ambiguous bond with the haunted woman. In some respects, they are kindred spirits, tilting at windmills, even though her grown son and his superiors in the justice bureaucracy would prefer to let the past stay dead.

While NN (a form of shorthand for “John Doe”) carries all sorts of implicit criticism of the Fujimori era, it does not belabor its political points (and fudges its dates, presumably for the sake of ambiguity). Still, Fidel’s team could have just as easily investigated some Shining Path atrocities as well. After all, there is a reason Fujimori’s get-tough policies were so popular. Were he on the ballot today, he would probably carry a sizable plurality, if not an outright majority.

Regardless, part of NN’s virtue is its quietness. Gálvez never hits the audience over the head, preferring to let them simmer in murky intrigue. Yet, despite its reserve, NN should not be dismissed as Slow Cinema. There is real plot here, entailing serious stakes. As Fidel, Paul Vega scrupulously shuns histrionics. Nonetheless, he is so tightly wound and deeply repressed, he looks like he might shatter if he tipped over. While Antonieta Pari’s Graciela goes more for the gut, it is still a rigorously disciplined, exquisitely dignified performance.

Various descriptions make NN sound like CSI as reconceived by Samantha Power, but it is more of an examination of grief and the long term effects of living with death. It is a well put together package, nicely underscored by Pauchi Sasaki’s subtle musical cues. Still, some wider context would have given it greater perspective and resonance. Recommended for its world weary restraint, NN screens tomorrow (1/2) and Monday (1/5) during the 2015 PSIFF.