Culling bits from Antonioni, Hitchcock and Spielberg, among others, María Novaro’s Without a Trace is nonetheless bewitchingly about Mexico. Gorgeously cinematographed by Serguei Saldívar Tanaka, it follows two women, one a hitchhiker, as the pair travel along Mexico’s back roads in a station wagon, a red car in ominous pursuit. Their destination is Cancún, but along the way they hit such allegorical spots as Shifting Sands and No Turning Back. The comedic journey, full of twists and turns, isn’t a paper-thin Thelma & Louise (Ridley Scott, 1991), to which Novaro’s film is often compared, but a reflection on Mexico under the forces of poverty, social neglect, NAFTA, globalization and machismo.
The driver is Aurelia, who is nursing her infant and fleeing her boyfriend, a low-level drug trafficker. A sweatshop laborer, Aurelia claims native ancestry, little education, dreams of a better future for her two sons, and resourcefulness and pluck. Her newly acquainted companion, who gives her name as Ana, possesses Spanish ancestry—to underscore the point, she has been raised in Spain—and a graduate education in Art History. Equally shut out of decent employment, she sells fake Mayan artifacts in the U.S., her partner, the creator of these sculptures, a Mayan craftsman who is also resorting to crime in order to survive. Two categories of humans are low on the socioeconomic totem pole: females; Indian natives. Meanwhile, a corrupt cop is after “Ana,” as much to rape as to incarcerate her, and a serial killer is targeting young women. It could be the Mexican establishment.
A friendship very slowly develops between the two women, who bridge the gulf dividing them amidst quarrels and mutual suspiciousness, and forge a nontraditional family. Sin dejar huella is Novaro’s heart-stirring dream of a united homeland reconciling native and Spanish Mexico.
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