La Civil

Brutal. Just brutal.

La Civil is a drama about a Mexican woman who searches for her daughter after a kidnapping. These aren’t rich folks, Cielo and her husband Gustavo are just ordinary people. They live in an ordinary house and run a shop the size of a closet, just an over-the-counter thing. You would never dream of being a target for kidnappers with such modest means.

But this is Mexico, and this is a standard cartel business, lifting people and squeezing their loved ones for cash. You don’t have to be rich, they have the time and manpower to work everybody, since they are so unlikely to be caught. In Mexico, life is cheap, female life especially.

The film starts on an ordinary day with Cielo and her daughter chatting and putting on makeup before leaving the house. As Cielo is driving around town, a car pulls up in front of her, and a guy gets out and approaches her vehicle. He tells her that her daughter Laura has been taken and she needs to give them a vast sum of money for her return.

Cielo tries to get every penny she can, even though it still falls short of the amount demanded, but after she pays, Laura doesn’t come home. And this is where the nightmare that couldn’t possibly be worse, gets worse.

Because how to do you track down these people? They are just “them”. It’s not like the cartel leave a calling card saying, “You have just been extorted by cartel so-and-so, please contact us on this number for more information about your case”. Which cartel? What people? What are their names? Where are they?

In action movies it’s just a matter of shooting your way to the truth, but the reality is much more grim. Cielo jumps every time a body is reported found on the news. She turns up at funeral homes to see if she can identify any newfound corpses.

In one of the most brutal scenes of the film, the funeral director tells her that the police dump murder victims on her, because the country’s coroners are all full. Naturally, she doesn’t have an infinite capacity of storage either. So she leads Cielo back into this closet. It’s not refrigerated, bodies and just put wherever there is space, across the floor, whatever. In this stinking, tiny room, she tells her that many come in decapitated, but two girls’ heads were discovered that morning, and shows her two severed, discoloured heads in a bucket.

The horror that this is not just a film, this is based on real people’s stories, this is how real people live, it’s unimaginable.

In Mexico there is virtually nowhere to turn. The police are overwhelmed, indifferent and corrupt. The cartels hold everyone in fear, and the police make only sporadic and piecemeal dents in their arrests. In La Civil, Cielo manages to make inroads with an anti-cartel unit of soldiers, but even they torture and execute according to their own needs. There is no one to turn to, no rule of law effectively.

La Civil is powerful, unflinching, and heartbreaking. How anyone survives living through what this mother endures is a miracle. Excellent film.