‘Los Lobos’: Brothers Fend For Themselves in a Mexican Equivalent to ‘The Florida Project’17 November, 2020
Los Lobos (The Wolves, 2020, directed by Samuel Kishi) is the story of an undocumented Mexican family who’ve recently arrived in New Mexico, USA: Lucía (Martha Reyes Arias) and her two boys Max and Leo, played by real-life siblings Maximiliano and Leonardo Nájar Márquez. Our hearts sink for the family at the beginning of the film as they move into a squalid apartment. The boys are left to fend for themselves while Lucía goes out to work, guided by a long list of rules that she has recorded into a Dictaphone for them to follow:
Rule number 1: Never leave the apartment
Rule number 2: Don’t walk on the carpet without shoes on
Rule number 3: Keep the apartment tidy
Rule number 4: Look after each other…
Max and Leo’s perspective on their lonely existence is what drives this film, and what allows the film to move from one of hardship and neglect to one of kindness and some joy. The film reminded me a lot of Sean Baker’s 2017 film The Florida Project, where the viewer is constantly surprised at children’s capacity to be resilient and find fun, despite living in extremely tough circumstances. Watching the boys try to make their own fun together and try to resist the urge to leave the flat tugs at the heart strings. The link between the two films jumped out at me because of Max and Leo’s incessant pleas to be taken to Disneyland in Florida. Since the chances of such a trip are slim, the boys invent their own cartoon world, which appears fleetingly throughout the film as the boys’ scribbles of wolf and ninja characters occasionally come to life. These cartoon interludes add a tiny bit of colour to an otherwise grey, dark film, with most scenes shot with little light and minimalist in the way of background music, in contrast to the garish colours of The Florida Project.
The theme of family (or lack of it) comes across very clearly. The first English words the children learn are the words for family members: watching Max and Leo recite the English words father, mother, brother, sister, aunt, uncle, cousins over and over again, brings home how isolated they are and the absence of their father hangs heavily over the whole film. When Lucía breaks one of her most important rules (Rule number 7: always hug after a fight), it seems as if the family’s delicate existence is going to be smashed to pieces. But Los Lobos shows us how friendships can be formed in the most unlikely of circumstances, as their Chinese landlady turns out to be friendlier than they initially deem, and allow the boys a chance to be kids again.
Los Lobos is an honest, gritty film. The life the boys and their mother have to live (and the glimpses we get of other people living in poverty in Albuquerque) should make all viewers ashamed at the humiliations of poverty. The film tries to hint at a happy ending for the family, but it’s quite hard to believe it’ll be ok for Lucía, Max and Leo, with so many obstacles in their way.
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