Like watching its eponymous esé ride his tricycle along the sidewalk of a Californian highway, Lupe Under The Sun is not a film that’s going anywhere quickly. Years ago this Mexican migrant insisted to his granddaughter that a better life awaited him beyond the border, the promise of a prosperous future painting magnificent mansions for the rich. Who knows, maybe one day he would live in one himself. But as so many discover, to achieve the American dream, you need more than just a belief.
Now every morning at 4am, Lupe (Daniel Muratalla) awakens, cleans his teeth, trims his moustache, and then heads out to the fields of the Central Valley to pick peaches from under the glare of the Golden State sun. He’s a man dedicated to his work, but when he looks at himself in the mirror, he sees someone who has let life roll past him like a tumbleweed floating in the wind – and what’s worse, he has nothing to show for it.
Taken from the tales he was told of his own grandpa, director Rodrigo Reyes’ first fictional feature nestles nicely next to the filmmaker’s 2013 documentary Purgatorio as a poetic companion piece. While that film considered both the beauty and brutality of the U.S./Mexico border, this is a dedication to those who have crossed it; one that’s told with haunting, neorealist honesty.It’s an interior drama; a man fighting against himself. Late on we see Lupe stood in a zoo staring at a bear that’s cruelly trapped in a cage – a metaphor for his own life. Despite maintaining a long-term relationship with a sweet señorita (Ana Maria Muratalla), he remains a solitary individual, unsure of his own identity. And after a diagnosis from the doctor reminds him of his own mortality, Lupe’s thoughts soon turn to the past, and the land he left behind.
Never one to show his emotions, Lupe lives much of his life in silence – non-professional debut actor Daniel Muratalla allowing his own personality to fill the role. It’s an elegant performance, elegiac in nature, which tragically reflects the decaying sense of loss felt by those willing to take a leap of faith, but who struggle to find their feet – the pain etched in his tired eyes and weathered appearance.
At under 80 minutes, it’s a brisk running time, but problematically it all too often feels like a slog; the script’s lack of incident, the agonisingly slow pace, and the taciturn lead each liable to test the viewer’s composure at regular intervals. To those who are patient though, Lupe’s striking story is likely to linger.