" I’ll be monitoring your frequency "
— Zoe Saldana, Star Trek

MRQE Top Critic

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“Here” and “there” are Mexico and the United States, respectively — at least from the point of view of Pedro (Pedro De los Santos). He has just returned home from a stint in America earning money for his family. His wife Teresa (Teresa Ramírez Aguirre) and two daughters await his return. Aquí y Allá ( Here and There) is about Pedro’s readjustment to life in his small home town.

A good-hearted family drama, an apolitical film when it comes to immigration
A good-hearted family drama, an apolitical film when it comes to immigration

Pedro brought back an electronic piano and he hopes to start a band. Music helped carry him through the homesickness in America. He also hopes to spend more time with his daughters; the older one is turning into a rebellious teenager. Over time, he does start to connect with her through music.

But things change when his pregnant wife becomes ill. Through Pedro, we get a tour through the horrific medical system of rural Mexico. Pedro has to buy his own drugs — elsewhere, because the hospital doesn’t have them — and give them to the hospital, all without a car. He also has to supply 8 volunteer blood donors “by tomorrow” or pay 500 pesos per missing donor. The debts build up, and the music isn’t bringing in enough money, so he has to start looking for construction jobs. We don’t know how life in America was, but it sure is hard “here.”

One of the strengths of this film is that although it’s called “here and there,” it never actually shows us “there.” This is not a film about America or its immigration policy. It’s not political. That’s probably how Pedro sees things too — America is not necessarily the promised land, or a land of freedom, or a land where people fight about his permission to come — it’s just a place that is “not here.” The pay may be better, but the commute is a bitch.

Aquí y Allá moves very slowly, and the drama is generally not very tense; there’s no multiplex appeal in the film. The pace works well when we’re getting to know the characters, or when we’re observing a scene of domesticity — as when Pedro breaks out the guitar and sings a solo concert for his wife and daughters (and us).

But unlike a lot of other slow movies I’ve watched recently, Aquí y Allá doesn’t make full use of every scene. There are scenes toward the end that lag; they don’t tell us anything new about the characters or the plot, and I wouldn’t have minded if Aquí y Allá were shorter by another 15 minutes. If you’re looking for festival recommendations, you could probably find something better paced and better built.

Then again, a goodhearted family drama like this one might just hit the spot.