One day, when Estrella (Paola Lara) returns from school, her mother isn’t there. And she doesn’t come back that night or the next day or the day after that. Hunger finally pushes Estrella out the door and she finds El Shine (Juan Ramón López) and his family, a group of homeless children. They are not a welcoming bunch, but Estrella does find a connection there after proving herself worthy to them. The streets are a violent place, but fortunately, Estrella has a secret: she has three wishes. Wishes that she must carefully consider how to use.
Vuelven is an amazing film. Beatiful and sad and also scary and brutal in many ways. It really impressed me.
Vuelven is difficult to categorize because it is so many things at once. It is a fairy tale, including the darkness that comes with classic fairy tales. It’s a dissection of violence and politics in Mexico and how the most vulnerable are hurting in the system. It has magical realism. It is a horror film. It is a love story. It is a thriller. One thing it isn’t, though, and that is a happy film.
That mix could have felt all over the place, but López ties it together and makes it feel whole. There is not a moment where I thought, “oh, is that really necessary? Do we actually need to add animation into the mix?” The question never arose, because it works so beautifully. But even if it had, the answer would have been, “of course, we absolutely do need it. Gimme more.”
The film has a way of presenting the violence these children experience that is harrowing and almost unbearable, without ever becoming so much that you need to withdraw from it just to be able to watch it. That means that you feel every horrible second, just as you feel the stolen moments of beauty in it.
I also have to mention the locations, which were evocative and perfectly chosen for the story. They added to the very special atmosphere of the film. It’s a heady mix, making for one hell of a film – a film that really stayed with me long after it was over. And I still get goosebumps when I think about it.