In their debut feature length documentary América, directing duo Erick Stoll and Chase Whiteside offer a heartening portrait of three poverty stricken brothers from the Mexican city of Colima as they attempt to come to terms with their new duties as carers after a family tragedy forces them back into each other’s lives.
Diego, a young circus artist living and working away on a tourist resort somewhere on the coast of Mexico returns home to join his brother Bruno and help take care of América, their ailing 93 year old grandmother. After a fall which saw her son, Diego and Bruno’s father, Louis accused of elderly neglect and incarcerated without trial, the brothers attempt to nurse the frail old women back to health and prove to the authorities that they can be trusted to look after their own. Tempers grow increasingly high as the boys are joined by their reckless and sometimes volatile younger brother Rodrigo.
Stoll and Whiteside don’t miss a beat or a second of action as they outline the tender relationship between softly-spoken Diego and América in some of the most heartening moments of the film. As the brothers are seen squabbling over money, chores and everything in between, there are moments of heartbreaking tenderness and of devastating beauty, which are only ever slightly dampened by a fair bit of playing up to the camera. This is completely understandable if one considers that all three boys have at one point or another been performers in the circus, something which is sadly never fully broached.
Moments of intimacy between Diego and America are soon broken by constant discussions of what to do with the woman while she is within fairly comfortable earshot. These are perhaps some of the most uncomfortable moments in the film, which to Stoll and Whiteside’s credit, are never cut short no matter how uneasy they might make us feel.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this deeply touching portrait is knowing where the performing to the camera stops, and where the real interaction begins. As all three brothers take it in turns to lose hope and regain it later, moments of poignant compassion are intertwined with overwhelming sadness for a woman who was once beautiful, healthy and full of life.
With the absence of a narrator, it is left to the boys to try and form a coherent narrative. And while one can never be sure if the brothers are solely motivated by doing the right or whether there was an ulterior financial motive, it is this ambiguity which makes America into such a brilliantly constructed and deeply touching film.
America is in cinemas form Friday 8th of February.