Travellers and migrants who vanish without a trace – and the desperation of the families they leave behind – come to light in this tense, enveloping drama set in the shadow of the US–Mexico border.
An absorbing debut feature, Identifying Features follows Magdalena (Mercedes Hernández), an illiterate Mexican woman, as she leaves her rural home in search of her teenage son, missing since departing for the US border with a friend two months prior.
Director Fernanda Valadez and her largely female crew deftly and inventively frame this story of dogged maternal love in a violence-plagued world. With Hernández’s stunning performance at its heart, the film – much of it shot with a team of only three – balances the horrors facing migrants before they even reach the border with the power of human resilience. The story follows other mothers, other sons: all eventually intersect with Magdalena. Claudia Becerril Bulos’ lyrical camera often rests on Magdalena’s face: that of her interlocutor is withheld until long into the scene (if shown at all). Glimpses of a migrant shelter, armed checkpoints and the imposing border itself build a sense of scale without losing intimacy. A hallucinatory score from Clarice Jensen is used sparingly, to immersive effect.
Dread builds as Magdalena’s odyssey takes her into an increasingly remote and empty landscape: the climax hits with extraordinary force. — Catherine Bisley
“Headlines are flooded with statistics on immigration and nascent fears about the influx of so-called ‘illegal visitors’, but rarely is the curtain lifted on the personal stories of those left behind. Mexican director Fernanda Valadez employs fiction to illustrate the dark realities of the perilous journeys undertaken… combin[ing] stunning cinematography, evocative sound design and hints of magical realism to create a visionary work of devastating power.” — Anjana Janardhan, Sight & Sound
About the Filmmaker
Fernanda Valadez is a director and producer. Her first short, De este mundo, won the Best Short Film Award at the Guanajuato Film Festival. Identifying Features marks her directorial feature debut.