Virtual Cinema | Acclaimed New Drama “Identifying Features” Spotlights Mexican Cinema January 21, 2021
The lyrical and suspenseful Identifying Features (Sin señas particulares) is one of the most potent debut feature films in recent Mexican cinema. The new drama from director Fernanda Valadez is also winning prestigious awards right out of the gate.
At the 2021 inaugural Gotham Awards for independent film, Identifying Features was the underdog winner of Best International Feature, competing against strong powerhouse contenders such as Bacurau, Martin Eden, and Wolfwalkers. In the World Cinema Dramatic Competition category at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, the Audience Award and Special Jury Award for Best Screenplay both went to Identifying Features, which has also won top prizes at international film festivals including Morelia, San Sebastián, Stockholm, Thessaloniki, and Zurich.
Identifying Features tells the story of middle-aged Magdalena, in a powerful and somber performance by Mercedes Hernández. Magdalena embarks on a journey from her town in Guanajuato in search of her son Jesús, after he disappears with a friend en route to cross the U.S. border. Traveling through desolate towns and landscapes of central and northern Mexico, Magdalena meets Miguel (David Illescas), a young man recently deported from the United States. The two accompany one another in a region where victims and aggressors ramble together: Magdalena looking for her son, and Miguel making his way home, eager to see his own mother.
Suspense at the Border
With impeccable cinematography by Claudia Becerril, and a mostly female crew, the creative team of Valadez and co-writer and producer Astrid Rondero deftly deliver a suspenseful border thriller with a nail-biting climax in the midst of a real-world humanitarian crisis. Identifying Features offers a welcome twist to the violent border narratives of recent Mexican cinema. By spotlighting the country’s failed war against drug cartels and the disappearance of migrants bound for the United States, and by placing the focus on the plight of a mother looking for her son, the film confirms Valadez as an exciting filmmaker to watch.
About the Author
Carlos A. Gutiérrez, co-founder and executive director of New York–based Cinema Tropical, is program director for “Latin Wave: New Films from Latin America” at the MFAH.
Underwriting for the Film Department is provided by Tenaris and the Vaughn Foundation. Generous funding is provided by Nina and Michael Zilkha; The Consulate General of the Republic of Korea; Franci Neely; Carrin Patman and Jim Derrick; Lois Chiles Foundation; ILEX Foundation; L’Alliance Française de Houston; and The Foundation for Independent Media Arts.