La Caja review – mystery box of bones ignites brooding surrogate-father tale

Photo: The Match Factory


The final instalment in Venezuelan director Lorenzo Vigas’s trilogy about fathers and sons takes on social issues as well as emotional ones.

By The Guardian – Xan Brooks

Sep 6, 2021

Teenage Hatzin is on his way home with his father’s remains in a box when he looks out the window and sees a familiar face on the street. He jumps off the bus and the man turns around. If the box contains Esteban, then who’s this guy, Mario? And if Mario is his father, then who the hell’s in the box?

Rest assured that these questions will be addressed and responded to during the course of La Caja, the closing part of Venezuelan writer – director Lorenzo Vigas’s acclaimed trilogy about the fraught, shifting relationship between fathers and sons. Vigas’s last instalment, From Afar, took the top prize here in Venice back in 2015, although since then the jury has swung towards bigger and splashier fare. La Caja – a tale of physical and spiritual deserts – may be too modest and stolid to trouble the scoreboard this year. But it has important things to say and by and large says them well.

Big, bearlike Mario (Hernan Mendoza) may not be Hatzin’s father but is gruffly content to play the part for a while. He’s kind and warm – hearted and takes the boy under his wing. But Mario – in at least one respect – is not entirely as he presents himself. He makes a dodgy, lucrative living funnelling migrant workers into the garment factories of northern México and is not above robbing trucks to support his own business ventures. When Hatzin (Hatzin Navarette) gently objects to the way in which he cons the machinists out of their promised weekly wage, the man is exasperated. “You are too honest,” he tells him. “Don’t you ever lie?”

Vigas’s direction is efficient, pedestrian, entirely built for purpose. But he manages to keep the audience on-board throughout the tale’s twists and turns, rustling up a brooding rites-of-passage yarn that gestures towards wider issues in the land at large. Along the way, La Caja tours a modern-day badlands of factories and trailers, stone culverts and high-tensile fencing, with migrants packed onto buses and mass graves in the desert. Bumping up the dusty road in Mario’s van, Hatzin should be braced for some jolting life lessons. He’ll learn that one person’s truth hinges on a still greater betrayal, and that some surrogate dads are worth less than a bunch of bones in a box.

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