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The Wall of Mexico (A Movie Review)

Updated: Jul 18


Starring Jackson Rathbone, Esai Morales, Marisol Sacramento, Carmela Zumbado, Alex Meneses, Moises Arias, Mariel Hemingway, Xander Berkeley, Blake Lindsley, Lilia Fifield, Constance Todd Smith, Pedro Rodman, Alex Scheinman, Agya Salas, Ryan Ellis, Andrés Garcia, Laura López, Aarón Tintos, Joe Hulse, Aldo Quintero Torres and Salmon Robert.

Screenplay by Zachary Cotler.

Directed by Zachary Cotler and Magdalena Zyzak.

Distributed by Dark Star Pictures. 105 minutes. Not Rated.

Okay, first things first. The Wall of Mexico is not about Trump’s mythical promise of an expansive, impenetrable border wall. (“And Mexico will pay for it!”). And yet in some ways it is. Not a physical wall, mind you, but a mental wall. A wall of bigotry and intolerance. A wall between the haves and the have nots. A wall of division.

Yet, the film also flips the script. In The Wall of Mexico, a rich Mexican family must build a wall to keep poor white people out. Specifically, from the family builds the wall to keep people from trespassing on their property to get to their well – a well which is rumored to have some sort of magical properties, a rumor which the family strongly believes.

The film is seen through the eyes of a white man who has just started working for the family, who have a large compound right on the US-Mexico border. (The film never says exactly where they are, but it appears to be in the California border area near Tijuana, where much of the film was shot.) Don (Jackson Rathbone) has no real stake in the fight. He has a good job, the family mostly treats him well, and does not feel a natural affinity to the townspeople about the grudge just because of the color of his skin.

The Wall of Mexico takes a nuanced look at racial division. For example, fairly early on in the film, after being asked several times if he has been allowed to drink the water, he finally exasperatedly says to one of the redneck guys who asked, “Man, is that some sort of local racist joke?”

“You calling me a racist?” the guy asks coldly. Then he smiles, “It’s okay, everyone’s racist, subconsciously. Read that in The New York Times.”

Like so much that goes on in The Wall of Mexico, it’s not about what it seems. It turns out that the question had nothing to do with race. It was about the well, although Don did know that yet.

It’s also a nice twist on things that the redneck reads The New York Times, or at least is savvy enough to claim to do so. The Wall of Mexico doesn’t want to fall back on stereotypes in either direction.

However, the divisions the film is examining are not just racial, they are also of class. In fact, arguably, that split is even more of a chasm. The Arista family – father Henry (Esai Morales), mother Monica (Alex Meneses) and daughters Ximena (Carmela Zumbado) and Tania (Marisol Sacramento) live a pampered, somewhat decadent lifestyle – in particular, the girls. And frankly the girls are kind of hot messes, always partying, nearly constantly drunk or high, although they are both oddly philosophical about life.

They are also extremely self-involved. The lead handyman Mike (Xander Berkeley) says he has known the girls their entire life and they still don’t know his name… and while that is never exactly proven (you can’t prove a negative, but they never use his name), it feels true. Don gets into a probably unwise sexual relationship with the younger daughter Tania, but she does not seem to feel much for him, or even to particularly like him. He is just a plaything to her.

The Aristas have something of value to the community – the “magic” water – and they do not want to share. Which is not to say that the community does not give them reasons to hold back, they appear to be sneaking onto the land at night and stealing from the well.

The Wall of Mexico looks at a matter of months where this standoff comes to a head.

Occasionally The Wall of Mexico bites off a little more than it can chew, and the eventual explanation about the water is a bit of a letdown, but all in all the movie is extremely an well-acted and smart examination of our divided world.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2020 All rights reserved. Posted: September 18, 2020.

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