Teodora Mihai, Belgium|Romania 2021
LA CIVIL, the suspenseful thriller from Belgian/Romanian documentarian, Teodora Mihai, depicts the modern culture of Mexico, namely a culture of violence, fear and despair. Caught in this threatening and dangerous atmosphere are Cielo, a mother, expertly portrayed by Arceilia Ramirez (who is the heart and soul of this film) and her daughter, Laura, who is kidnapped and caught in the deadly "Cartel Web”. Psychologically, Mihai’s film invites the viewer to undergo the same change that Cielo experiences from at first a helpless mother, unsuccessfully trying to get enough ransom money to free her daughter and later to a determined perpetrator. There is, however, also plenty of action. As the film proceeds Mihai meets Lieutenant Lamarque (Jorge A. Jimenez) and with him she marches on to the frontline of the war against the drug cartels. This change in Cielo, from loving mother to aggressive agent, is also reflected in the change in her appearance. While looking in the mirror, she resolutely chops off her hair before she begins her painful quest. In addition, Marius Panduru’s cinematographic skills create a feeling of tension and suspense, particularly in the nighttime scenes on the dusty, spooky roads of Mexico, as they are lit up by the headlights of lonely cars or by homes under a siege of bullets.
Mihai based her script on a meeting with a victimized mother, Miriam Rodriguez, and the suffering of other immeasurable families in Mexico. She learned that not only is the cartel omnipresent, but that the police cannot be trusted, and this she portrayed so well in her film’s protagonists. When asked what she wants people to think about after they watch the film, Mihai replied that she does not pretend to have answers or solutions. However, she wanted to make a moving story that would inspire people to reflect on the situation. She hopes that maybe it is a step towards some positive change.