Border Town (2006)
Directed by: Gregory Nava | 99 minutes | drama, thriller, crime | Actors: Jennifer Lopez, Antonio Banderas, Martin Sheen, Sonia Braga, Maya Zapata, Dave Colon, Kate del Castillo, John Norman, Irineo Alvarez, Richard Barela, Randall Batinkoff, Juan Diego Botto, Julio Cedillo, Peter Gonzales Falcon, Zaide Silvia Gutiérrez Juanes, Rachael Luchero, Deborah Martinez, Rene Rivera, Teresa Ruiz, Brandon Smith, Chris Talley, Kim Thrasher, Jorge Urzua, Karolinah Villareal
When a free trade agreement between the US and Mexico comes into effect in 1994, a large number of American companies establish themselves in the Mexican border town of Juarez. The obvious motive is the presence of cheap labour. In the years that followed, the city experienced explosive growth, and with that growth came the inevitable problems. Slums appear on the outskirts of the city as drug dealers, prostitutes and people smugglers build a large clientele in the area of more than one and a half million inhabitants. They are also lucky that the local police is doing everything they can to live up to its lame reputation.
Juarez is best known outside of Mexico for the bizarre fact that more than 300 young women have been raped and murdered since 1994. These are often factory girls from the slums. In the investigation into the murders, the Mexican police show their worst side once again. She promises everything and delivers nothing. In 2007, the murders have still not come to an end. It also seems that the matter is much more complicated and much more smelly than originally thought. At the same time, it doesn’t look like the Mexican government will ever take an interest in the women of Juarez.
Who is interested in these women is director Gregory Nava. Unfortunately, his ‘Bordertown’, a film about the events in the border town, is by no means a windfall. The story – bit of thriller, bit of social drama, bit of political commentary – shoots in all directions and never manages to keep pace. Thus, the heroine is provided with trauma, old flame, new flame, troublesome chef, sympathetic comrade and Mexican protégé; the misery of the indigenous population is illustrated by human smuggling, the burning down of a slum and the mind-numbing work in the factory. And those are just the sidelines. Due to the surplus of information and the constantly changing direction, the film loses any coherence, depth or focus.
Another problem is the lack of subtlety. The film is clumsy in every way, which is not so much due to the events themselves as to the exaggerated elaboration. The opening sequence speaks volumes in that regard. In this we see how a young woman is first chased in an alley, then is attacked by a bus driver, after which she is grabbed by a group of men when leaving the bus. She is raped, beaten, strangled, beaten again and finally buried under the Mexican sand. And we’re talking about a survivor…
The presence of stars like Banderas and Lopez is not enough to make up for those flaws, although some scenes are quite exciting and there are some sharp statements about the relationship between big business and the media. But afterwards the impression predominates that the film is just as messy as the city itself. That form and content are one should not be called consolation in this case. Where a powerful cry for attention was required, ‘Bordertown’ does not get any further than a few incoherent squeaks.
More information about the situation in Juarez can be found on the website of the Hester Foundation (www.hester.nu). This foundation was founded by the family of Hester van Nierop, a Dutch architect who was murdered in Juarez in 1998. The foundation is involved in providing assistance to relatives and in the fight against violence targeting women in Juarez.