Gaze into the near future of Mexico, when drug cartels will control every aspect of life. Call it ninety minutes from now. Most average people have fled, leaving a depopulated economic wasteland in their wake. The country is unlikely to rejuvenate itself, because the cartels make it their business to search out and abduct young girls. “Huck,” as she calls herself, has eluded their grasp by passing for a boy, but her luck is about to run out in Julio Hernandez Cordon’s Buy Me a Gun, which screens during this year’s Neighboring Scenes: New Latin American Cinema.
Life is surreal for Huck, mostly in a bad way. Her junkie father Rogelio ekes out a living as the caretaker of a decrepit baseball field in the middle of the desert that caters to the cartel game-nights. What little he earns, he mostly turns back over to the cartel for drugs. However, he is acutely responsible when it comes to Huck, whose hair he cuts short to appear boyish. He also keeps her ankle shackled to a lead to prevent any grab-and-go attempts.
Unfortunately, Huck does not seem to fully appreciate the gravity of her situation, even though she should. She has heard no end of horror stories from the gang of orphans living rough in the brush surrounding the baseball field. Although Rogelio is cagey on the details, Huck still understands to some extent the cartel is responsible for the disappearance of her mother and her older sister. Nevertheless, her carelessness will bring down a lot of trouble on Huck and Rogelio.
Watching Buy Me a Gun leads to even greater respect for Issa Lopez’s Tigers are not Afraid, because she so effortless created a fable-like vibe, whereas Cordon’s flights into fantastical symbolism are exhaustingly laborious. In fact, the awkward attempts at Huck Finn allegorical parallels becomes altogether baffling late in the third act (there is indeed a raft, but Huck’s companion is a far cry from Jim, the escaped slave in Twain’s novel.
Admittedly, there are some tense moments in Gun, but any film that honestly depicts pervasive and arbitrary nature of cartel violence in Mexico will be unsettling. Huck is a realistically flawed character and young Matilde Hernandez Guinea shows both sensitivity and disciplined reserve beyond her years as Huck, but the character can be her own worse enemy, which becomes ever-more frustrating over time.
Cordon offers up no shortage of cartel violence and half-baked literary allusions, including the nearly feral pack of children, who are like the Lost Boys from Peter Pan, by way of Lord of the Flies. Yet, it mostly feels derivative coming after Tigers and the original Miss Bala, just to name a few examples. Painfully earnest but ultimately rather flat, Buy Me a Gun screens this Saturday (2/23) at the Walter Reade, as part of Neighboring Scenes.