PAPER BOATS is primarily a story about the loss of the American Dream. Given the current political culture of America it seems all too important a story to simply let slip by.
Three children – Carolina, and her brothers José and Tomás – are sent to Mexico to live with their grandfather José (Pedro Damian) after their mother fears losing them to the American system. The vast, open space of the Mexican desert (where José lives in a shack) contrasts with the concrete jungle of various ethnicities and cultures the children are more familiar with. Contextualising a film such as this seems like an easy task, with the film itself even opening with the hateful bile of Donald Trump. Yet there is a truly important message that seeps out as Yago Munoz’s 72-minute film continues: that family can extend beyond countries and borders.
“Muñoz feels his characters and lets them speak without a single word needing to be uttered. Little glances and head nods are enough to bring them down to earth and let them breathe on the screen.”
There is humour throughout the film. For instance, small slapstick moments of childish mayhem, when the children accidentally release a chicken from its hatch where it begins destroying everything. Jorge is not happy, though you can see there is still love in his eyes for the three children that he has now become duty-bound to. The humanity of these short moments bring Jorge into the foreground as a tough, yet loving man. His macho exterior is punctured by his similarities to the children – in one shot his drinking of a beer is even mirrored with Carolina’s greedy indulgence in a glass of milk. Muñoz feels his characters and lets them speak without a single word needing to be uttered. Little glances and head nods are enough to bring them down to earth and let them breathe on the screen.
Bruno Gaeta shoots the film sublimely, matching soft blues and purples of the sky against the harsh whiteness of the glaring sun and scorching sand. Drawing comparison to the abundance of greys and blacks of the city, the freshness of this desert seems more of an escape and less of a sentence. Though the characters never have too much time to develop, there is still a familiarity with them. Their American Dream may have been lost, but now they can live in the Mexican fantasy.