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Limbless and liminal in Central America

This Magazine Staff

Last night I watched my favourite doc of the festival so far, The Infinite Border by Juan Manuel Sepulveda. But before I splatter any more drool on the screen, I want to offer fair warning: a friend with far more exposure to the world of doc than me walked out halfway through, citing infinite boredom. (Actually, her text message read, “Leaving–not enough interviews, too many long back shots. …”)
And it’s true–for 90 minutes, the word count was pretty low and there lots of long, slow shots. But the interviews were generally very revealing. Even more eloquent, though, was the movie’s incoherence. The movie’s “argument” is deeply embedded in its mood. Infinite Border is very loosely structured and provides none of the basic background you’d expect for a North American audience. We do know that we’re looking at Central Americans (mostly Hondurans, it seems) traveling through Guatemala and Mexico and having a very hard time. But we never learn how many migrants follow this trail, how successful they are, what they’re fleeing or what happens to them if they ever make it.
Instead, we get frequently beautiful and at times poetic vignettes of a long journey through liminality (yes, I’m showing off the subject of my 13th grade English presentation). The film’s lack of linear structure seems to mirror the experience of these migrants, many of whom try over and over and over again just to get to northern Mexico, never mind across the Rio Grande. And let’s be clear: it’s a difficult journey.
One passage opens with a legless man digging a ditch. He’s in a centre being built to house dozens of migrants who have lost one or more limbs trying to hop on the freight trains that wind their up through Mexico. “The train is magnetic, it drew my hand in,” one nameless migrant recounts. “I watched my hand get crushed, I was bathing in my own blood.”
Sepulveda is clear about his broader message. He himself answers one of his subjects’ questions by stating “We are all immigrants.” And near the end of the film, a migrant tells the camera, “They tore down the Berlin Wall. Now they’re building another one. I don’t understand why.”
For the full panorama, you’ll have to watch it yourself. Much more interesting things are said–things I was too busy listening to to jot down. Infinite Border plays again Tuesday at 2, at the ROM.

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