La Llegada (Upon Entry) – 30th ¡Viva! Spanish & Latin American Festival

David Cunningham

Writers and directors: Alejandro RojasJuan and Sebastián Vasquez

Kafkaesque dramas in which innocent people are crushed by nameless bureaucracies are a familiar concept. La Llegada, written and directed by Alejandro RojasJuan and Sebastián Vasquez, is disturbing simply because it raises the possibility the bureaucrats might have a point.

La Llegada opens with impeccably liberal signposting-a radio broadcast establishes the film is set in 2019 and mocks the ambitions of then-president Donald Trump to limit immigration into the United States. Diego (Alberto Ammann) and partner Elena (Bruna Cusí) are travelling from Barcelona to Miami where they hope to become citizens, Elena having won the Green Card lottery. However, at customs, the couple are whisked to a secluded area and subjected to a series of questions which raise doubts about their immigration status and the level of trust between them.

The atmosphere set by co-directors RojasJuan and Vasquez is both authentic and darkly comic. No explanations are offered to justify the detention of Diego and Elena and, although the latter is more assertive, both slide into the submissive attitude of people complying with authority figures even if such an approach is not appropriate. There is the worrying possibility the whole thing could be a mistake, after all, the conditions in the interview rooms do not inspire confidence in the authorities. The situation has a makeshift atmosphere. The distracting noise of building works bang away in the background, and, at one point, all the lights are extinguished without explanation.

The interviewers behave in a manner which could politely be classed as eccentric and more accurately intrusive and bullying. Questions are asked about the frequency of sexual intercourse and Elena is required to demonstrate her dancing skills to prove her profession. As soon as she begins to reluctantly comply the request is withdrawn as if it was made purely to establish the power of the interviewers.

Diego and Elena become sucked into the off-centre atmosphere established by the interrogation. Questions about whether another passenger might have passed them contraband raises doubts about the motives of the person who seemed so helpful while they waited to get their passports checked.

There are fine performances from Alberto Ammann and Bruna Cusí. A twitchy Ammann makes Diego look guilty even if he is simply nervous. With eyes constantly flickering around and compulsively taking Rescue Remedy to calm down he looks shifty and untrustworthy. By comparison Bruna Cusí seems more mature, willing to initially challenge the authorities. It is no surprise that, of the pair, Elena has a job while the less mature Diego is unemployed.

The gently devastating moment in the film is the revelation that one of the partners has a guilty secret which shows a sneaky ambition and raises the possibility they might be trying to manipulate both their partner and the immigration system. It is handled superbly with the hurt and shock registering with their partner as they adjust to the possibility they might have been manipulated. There is the brutal body language of the partners sitting apart in the waiting area, no longer sure if they are still united against the authorities or can trust each other.

Despite the relatively brief running time of just over an hour La Llegada cuttingly explores the limitations of trust.

La Llegada is screening at the ¡Viva! Spanish & Latin American Festival at HOME, Manchester, on 14th and 20th April 2024.

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Limitations of trust

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