Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada

The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (2005) presents on the screen an ironic parallelism on the struggles and stories behind those people crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. Parallelism because this time in the attempt to give a proper burial to the Mexican Melquiades for a third and last time, his friend Pete (Lee Jones), who characterizes a Texas cowboy, goes on an unusual journey from North to South the border, to Melquiades's beloved Mexico. Director Tommy Lee Jones questions constructions of identity, justice, the concepts of the legal and the illegal, and finally the idealization of an unknown and promised place, regardless if this is located at the Northern or Southern side of the border.

The main plot relates the story of a Mexican's death and the journey of his American friend to his hometown fulfilling the promise of returning the dead body to his family. The death of Melquiades and its first burial (a quick coverage of the body with sand in the Texas desert) occurs as a result of a mistaken shooting by a US border patrol, Mike, when the Mexican cowboy called Melquiades was in the area as usually required his job. Once the body is found, a brief investigation starts to find the responsible and return the body to the family, but when the Texas police and border patrolmen discover that Melquiades was an undocumented Mexican migrant they decide to finish all efforts to condemn the murder and immediately bury the body for the second time. Outraged for the unjust manner the situation was handled and honouring a promise, Pete decides to take the body out of burial and go to Mexico crossing the desert, through the same path used for “illegal” migrants to follow the American dream.

This adventure is combined with a series of flashbacks that while forming a subplot about Texas people’s daily life (technology, individualism, consumerist culture, purposeless routines), also contribute to the dichotomy of the main plot adding some aspects of Latin American life (landscapes, family values, collective culture, struggles that become part of a purpose) which make the “wild” and beautiful Mexico look like an escape from a society full of deceiving appearances.

By the end of the movie, Pete arrives in Mexico and realizes that Melquiades's stories about his beautiful home and family were lies. The promising but agonizing journey is not but an irony that reveals one reality: whether the migrant comes from the North like Pete in Mexico or from the South like Melquiades in Texas, crossing the border represents the path towards a new life, towards constructing a new identity.

In contrast to other border movies in which the main theme is protecting the U.S from Latin American drug Cartels, murderers, among other negative influences coming upwards, the story presented advocates right-wing opinions on immigration. The idealization of a promising place crossing the border towards the U.S that is endangered by illegal immigrants is undermined. This tries to dissolve the geographical division between the two countries, and instead, it highlights similarities and the fact that a Mexican and an American can be friends, that Mexican people (regardless of their past or by which means they cross the border) can also contribute as part of the society as an American will do if they go to Latin America.

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