A first feature from Mexican Natalia López Gallardo, Robe of Gems centres on three very different women and their lives in the dangerous and shadowy Mexican countryside.
Robe of Gems does not paint a particularly rosy picture of rural Mexico, and it’s not supposed to.
To distance herself from her soon-to-be ex-husband, Isabel (Nailea Norvind) retreats to her family’s country home with her children. There she discovers that the sister of her housekeeper Maria (Antonia Olivares) is missing, and offers to help. But this isn’t the only problem Maria is facing, as she is also involved with drug cartels in the area. The mother of one of the cartel members is Roberta (Aida Roa), who is the police officer leading the investigation into the woman’s disappearance.
Tension looms on every breeze that blows across the arid landscape, but we never really get to know the women well enough to properly understand their actions. Why would a woman take her children to a remote place – and stay there – when abductions and disappearances are apparently commonplace. How are Maria’s loyalties divided? What kind of person is Roberta and how did she end up leading a police investigation?
In fact, there’s probably a film to be made about each of the three individually, and the most interesting of them – the police commander –gets the maddeningly least screen time.
It feels like Mexico is a country of contradictions – where family is important but abduction is a crime regularly overlooked; where wealth and poverty live side by side and are the root of many ills; where guilt is a motivating factor instead of justice.
Although this is Natalia López Gallardo’s first feature as director, she has edited several films previously, including Jauja, Post Tenebras Lux, and Stellet Licht (the latter two by her husband Carlos Reygadas), which may help to provide an idea of the overall tone of Robe of Gems. Let’s just say I was hoping for a little more depth.