After a teenage girl (Denisse Azpilcueta) is abducted by the cartel in Northern Mexico, Cielo (Arcelia Ramirez) launches her own dangerous investigation into her daughter’s disappearance. This Belgian/Romanian/Mexican co-production is based on the real-life case of Miriam Rodríguez Martínez, who was shot dead in her home after uncovering key evidence about the drug traffickers who kidnapped her child. By realistically capturing her exceptional bravery, director Teodora Mihai does the mother justice where the legal system did not.
Discovering that her neighbours are also subject to a spate of kidnappings, extortion and intimidation by the cartel, Cielo’s course is obstructed at every turn by an ambivalent system and a hostile ex-husband (Álvaro Guerrero), leaving her to face the paramilitary gangs alone – some of whom are just children themselves. She soon finds herself caught in the crossfire that is the country’s 15-year war on drugs. With the military tactics as brutal as those employed by the traffickers, the violence leaves scars that go deeper than bodily harm.
Ramirez’s performance as a woman with nothing to lose is incredible, and the director’s documentarian eye keeps her at the heart of the story and avoids veering too far towards Sicario-style machismo. This is not the “shoot first, ask questions later” flippancy of Taken or Rambo: Last Blood but a far tougher approach that stresses the reality of the situation and makes authentic use of location, time and environment. Not a note of music is heard until the end credits and the only exposition is glimpsed through doorways or spluttered in between beatings.
La Civil is a challenging, truthful thriller whose devastating case is one of many in a society ravaged by drug wars. When Cielo sees a beheaded girl that is not her daughter, her relief is cut off by the knowledge that she is someone else’s.
La Civil does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews from our Cannes Film Festival 2021 coverage here.
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Watch the trailer for La Civil here: