Saturday, January 13, 2007

The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada

Tommy Lee Jones approached Guillermo Arriaga (Mexican novelist and writer of both Amores Perros and 21 Grams and now Babel) and asked him to write a script for his directorial debut. The result is a fascinating modern Western, filmed on and around Jones's west Texas ranch and over the border in the state of Chihuahua.

It's about one man's slightly deranged committment to seeking justice for his dead Mexican friend, and how that comes to involve taking his killer along as he fufills his promise to return Melquiades to his pueblo for burial. The first half of the story features much of Arriaga's trademark temporal scrambling, before it straightens itself out for the journey south.

I loved this movie; it's just the sort of thing I needed to see while reading Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian. It reminded me a bit of Central Station, where the key moments in the personal and geographical odyssey are all in the pathos of the chance encounters along the way. (Yet but for the very last scene I still didn't have that much to counter Agent Norton's wife's assessment that her husband was "beyond redemption".)

Ebert picked up on one interesting aspect of Arriaga's storytelling technique: "Some of the hidden connections produce ironies that only we understand, since the characters don't know as much about each other as we do."

Jones apparently gave each cast member a copy of The Outsider to read so that they might understand alienation. I'm not entirely sure I understood alienation that much better after reading Camus' novel, but I'm sure it helped. It's nice and short anyway.

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