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Los Bastardos (Amat Escalante, 2008)


Amat Escalante’s provocative drama Los Bastardos presents an atypical day in the lives of two undocumented workers in Los Angeles. With Carlos Reygadas, probably the most celebrated Mexican auteur of the moment, serving as one of the film’s producers, though, Escalante’s film is anything but a liberal-minded middlebrow look at their trials and tribulations. Indeed, comparisons to Reygadas’ Battle in Heaven would not be off-base here. Los Bastardos shares the long takes aesthetics of that film as well as its deliberate pacing. It also climaxes in a sudden act of violence that, frankly, feels more exploitative here than in Heaven. The resulting film is somewhat less powerful or purposeful than anything that Reygadas has produced, but it does suggest that Escalante’s instincts are pushing him in a promising direction.


At first Los Bastardos seems to be a naturalistic account of the undocumented day laborers. Early scenes show the men hanging out near a Home Depot, complaining about low pay, recounting a story in which a man tried to hire them for sex and making phone calls back home.  This impression persists throughout their work day, in which they begin a construction project and get into a minor squabble with their employer. It’s only after their day’s labor is complete that Escalante begins to reveal his more insidious intentions. He begins slowly, with furtive talk of a shotgun and a brief showdown in a city park, but by the film’s midpoint these two seemingly peaceable guys are holding a woman hostage.


From here, Los Bastardos moves into an extended confrontation that flirts with a few too many art house clichés to be completely impactful. The two characters here are named Jesus and Fausto, and their names are surely intended to imply all of the metaphorical portent that they do. The two-sided racial resentment that is subtly present at the start of the film becomes increasingly overt and almost comically outsized. The gringos that torment Jesus and Fausto are surely flawed, but the hypocrisy that is displayed when a white woman chastises her son for getting high with his friends and then takes a hit of crack is a bit too much to take seriously. Despite this, Los Bastardos actually manages to discard some of its stoic formalism for a final shot that is genuinely affecting. This moment, mirrored only during a woman’s brief post-coital moment shown earlier, suggests something like heart underneath all of Escalante’s forced depravity and eager showmanship.



Jeremy Heilman