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‘Identifying Features’ review: Beautiful movie with a gripping and topical story

Beautiful and eye opening.

Identifying Features deals with immigration in a different way. It does not follow the lives of those trying to adjust to living in America or even go deeply into why they risk their lives to come to the country. Instead, the compelling film is about those who go missing while trying to enter. The story is about Magdalena, a woman who has lost contact with her son who was coming to America looking for work. On her search to find her son she meets Miguel who has been deported to Mexico. 

First time director Fernanda Valadez’s debut is a beautiful one. The movie is light on dialogue and allows the natural beauty of Identifying Features to take center stage. There are also many close ups to draw the audience deeper into the story. Even more impressive is how vulnerable the camera can make the characters feel. The camera adds to the overall feel of the movie.

Identifying Features deals with a part of immigration that few are willing to discuss out loud. There is always talk about what illegal aliens will do when they get to America or what horrors they are running away from, but the actual journey is rarely touched on. It is a hard topic, so it is unsurprising the movie takes it on with mixed results.

Shedding light on the subject is commendable. One of the reasons the film is so emotional is that it deals with something few people are aware of. Identifying Features shows the pain of dislocation, but just as importantly, it also highlights the suffering of not knowing. The movie makes it clear that Magdalena is not an outlier.

On the flip side, the narrative is surprisingly sparse. The mystery will keep audiences engrossed and the characters are gripping, but the plot is also content to remain cryptic. This is more frustrating than anything else. The script also assumes that people watching will understand the levels of corruption in Mexico. This is surprising considering how cognizant the feel is in conveying emotion.

Immigration is a hot button issue that most are passionate about. Identifying Features is a riveting film that covers a different side of the topical subject. The film looks stunning and while the story can be little light it, will keep audiences absorbed. This audience favorite from the 2020 Sundance Film Festival is a worthwhile watch.

Identifying Features opens on Kino Marquee and virtual cinemas nationwide January 22

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