The Box (La Caja)

The Box is subtly heartbreaking.

Hatzín (Hatzín Navarrete) rides the bus from his Mexico City home all alone, though he’s still just a young guy; there’s a sick grandma at home, and a dead father’s remains to collect, and unfortunately, Hatzín’s got the job. His father, long estranged, is one of many victims of a mining accident. His remains fit into a small metal box. But before Hatzín can leave town, he sees a man in the street he’s sure is his dad. Mario (Hernán Mendoza) insists that Hatzín is mistaken but Hatzín will not be dissuaded. He shadows Mario until Mario reluctantly relents, taking the young boy under his wing, feeding and sheltering him, and putting him to work.

Hatzín is a very dedicated little acolyte; he clearly hasn’t had a father figure around in a while, maybe ever. But the thing about Mario is that his affable exterior is a front for the shady business he conducts. Mario recruits labour for the region’s factories, and takes kickbacks for providing people too desperate to have carefully read the contracts they sign. Now Hatzín does it too, but an up-close look at an ugly business may upset the bond so easily made.

Although The Box says a lot about the seedy underbelly of Mexico’s manufacturing industry, it does so simply by showing its realities. It does the same for the strange and shaky bond between Hatzín and Mario; of what, exactly, does it consist? And whether Hatzín is blood to Mario or simply adopted kin, what hypocrisy exists in the man to apply one set of ethics to family, and another to the people he condemns to mean kind of servitude. Hatzín is young but Mario thinks nothing of giving him a hard-knock education in the very ugliest corners of his business. Considering Hatzín’s age and need and aloneness in the world, it’s hard to say whether he’s a victim or a perpetrator. But knowing what he’s been through, you root for him. Director Lorenzo Vigas keeps relationships vague but is unflinching when it comes to corruption.

The Box was filmed in a factory in the border town of Ciudad Juárez where many young women in the region have disappeared. As much as we feel for Hatzín, we can’t help our eyes and hearts being pulled toward the nameless many being marched into buildings only the lucky will escape.

La Caja is an official selection of TIFF 2021.

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