La Ruta

By Star Victoria | Drama
A mother and daughter embark on the 'Route of Death' to reach the U.S.-Mexico border.

A mother and daughter, Lucia and Carmen, have fled Guatemala, leaving behind lives in a society marked by social turmoil, lawlessness, rape, murder and horror. They are about to embark on the infamous "Route of Death," which goes from Mexico to the U.S. border. When they encounter trouble with someone trying to steal their money, a father and son duo named Matias and Nico intervene, and the pairs seem to bond, albeit reluctantly.

The two families are different, however. Matias is a veteran of the route, having traveled it many times, and is wary and stoic about the prospects of making it. But first-timer Lucia is still optimistic. But that hope takes a beating along the way, as she endures hardship, violence and unforgivable betrayal.

Directed with striking dramatic sweep by Star Victoria from a script co-written with Roberto Saieh, this Student DGA award-winning dramatic short takes viewers on an intimate journey that most likely read about but rarely fully imagine. Through tracing one mother's struggle with consistently powerful storytelling, Lucia's voyage leads through difficulty, landing in some of the darker corners of humanity.

The style of the film has an almost classical sweep, capturing the huge, desolate vistas of the desert with painterly cinematography. Complete with a lyrical score and an eye for evocative composition, the production is worthy of a silver screen feature, with its visual polish and beauty.

But the real strength of the film is the writing, which touches on geopolitics but focuses more on the humans behind the headlines and understands the emotional and psychological costs it incurs. Lucia's will and determination to survive and protect herself and her daughter are fierce, and even though the route is full of danger, she is still alive to the beauty of the world around her and believes in the goodness of people.

Her love for Carmen is also palpable, and when pushed to desperation, it propels her to endure abuse and trauma. But as these situations pile up, they can't help but change her initial optimism. Actor Laura Vallejo's compelling performance captures Lucia's many layers with honesty and openness, while the performance from actor Miguel Izaguirre ("Orange Is the New Black") as Matias offers a subtle foil as a worn-out, guarded father who offers Lucia help and guidance.

But in the end, these flickers of humanity prove no match for the pitiless travail that Matias, Lucia and countless others face on the route. "La Ruta" resonates because while it portrays the bonds of family with great warmth and sympathy, it also understands that an inhumane situation only brings out the worst in humankind. And at the film's emotional and devastating end, Lucia has finally woken to this harsh reality. She does not die on the "Route of Death," like many other refugees, but her belief in the goodness of humankind does, for better or worse.

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