Sundance Film Review: Identifying Features (Sin Señas Particulares)
Identifying Features (Sin Señas Particulares)
Sundance Film Festival
Director: Fernanda Valadez
Identifying Features (Sin Señas Particulares) is a harrowing narrative about Magdalena (Mercedes Hernández), who seeks her lost, adolescent son, Jesús (Juan Jesús Varela). He has traveled from Guanajuato, Mexico, to cross the border into Arizona, and hasn’t called in two months. Magdalena and her friend Chuya (Laura Elena Ibarra)—whose son, Pedro (Xicoténcatl Ulloa), accompanied him—fear the worst. Indeed, the worst has taken its toll on Chuya and Pedro, as the two mothers discover that he was killed after a bus he was traveling on was seized and ransacked. While Pedro’s body was found as proof, Jesús’ wasn’t, and Magdalena is determined to travel wherever it takes to find him.
Possibly the most poignant element of Identifying Features (Sin Señas Particulares) is that the violence against, kidnappings and murder of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border is all very real. Despite being a fictional narrative, it feels like we’re all the closer to Magdalena’s journey because this—for many—is the story of real-life people. Some of the film’s shots are closeups on characters’ faces, particularly Magdalena’s, and this choice lends Sin Señas Particulares a cinéma verité feel. During these moments, we toggle between sympathizing with Magdalena and not being able to bear looking into her rueful eyes as she discovers, more and more, where Jesús may be.
Identifying Features (Sin Señas Particulares) is a straightforward story yet holds much to discover. The cross-pollination of Magdalena’s journey with Miguel’s (David Illescas) unceremonious deportation from the U.S. to Mexico spurs the narrative along, and the tension we feel as Miguel returns to his mother’s empty home makes for a depressive purgatory. He laments that he didn’t call more or send more money to his mother while consoling Magdalena about why Jesús may not have called her up to this point—the emotional psychology of it all reveals the humanity for which the film’s characters are a conduit.
Hernández absolutely thrives in her first leading acting role in Identifying Features (Sin Señas Particulares). She commands Magdalena’s determination, fear and inquisitiveness. She travels in some of Mexico’s most stunning mountainous landscapes. In these moments, the cameras pull out for context, and the story imbues the beautiful setting with melancholy. Director Fernanda Valadez achieves resonant emotional struggle with Identifying Features (Sin Señas Particulares), and the fact that this isn’t a feel-good story with silver lining underscores that it’s all the more urgent. –Alexander Ortega
Jan. 26 // 9:00 p.m // Tower Theatre
Jan. 27 // 12:00 p.m // Temple Theatre Park City
Jan. 31 // 7:00 p.m // Redstone Cinema 2 Park City
Feb. 1 // 10:00 a.m // Holliday Village Cinema 4 Park City
Read more of SLUG’s comprehensive coverage of the 2020 Sundance Film Festival.