Josh Soskin, “La Carnada” (2014)
In a poverty-stricken town in Mexico not far from the border with the United States, 13-year-old Manny (Angel Soto Jr) is saddled with the burden of caring for his severely diabetic bedridden mother after his older sister Daniela makes off with the money needed to pay the pharmacist for Mum’s insulin. Desperate, Manny meets Beto (Carlos Valencia) who offers the boy an easy way to make money. “I’m not a mule”, Manny says but Beto reassures him he’s not going to force him to carry large loads of drugs in his stomach or make him do anything the teenager doesn’t want to do – he understands the boy wants to help his mother. Next day, Beto takes Manny to a ghost town near the border, gives him supplies and a small amount of cocaine, and tells him to go to a far mountain where he will meet with some others who will pay him. Then Manmy’s work will be done and he’ll have enough money to get his mother the insulin she needs.
So begins Manny’s journey into adulthood, impelled by the love he has for his mother and his desire to help her after everyone else they know and care for has abandoned them. While Soto essentially plays Manny as one-dimensional and rather blank, the character’s mix of maturity beyond his years, intelligence, resourcefulness – and alas, naivety – comes out very strongly. Unfortunately Manny’s qualities are not enough to save him from Beto’s manipulation and devious plot of using the boy as a decoy (hence the film’s title) to draw US border patrol police away from the real drug mules working at night. Unbeknownst to Manny, Beto is prepared to use him and sacrifice him – and perhaps many other children like Manny who are driven by poverty into becoming foot-soldiers for drug cartels – to make money and to please his overlords in the gangs.
In the space of a few moments, a family’s desperate situation of poverty, unemployment and abandonment drives one of its members – and an innocent, trusting one at that – into a spider’s web of deceit and exploitation through his love and concern for his mother. This is surely one of life’s great ironies that one person’s particular road to Hell is paved with care and concern for a loved one. Few people would want to be in the same situation as Manny – and yet for Manny, the decision he makes to try to save his mother seems the most logical and straightforward.
The acting is quite good for a short film on a limited budget. Soto does adequately for his role while Valencia is slick enough as the devious Beto and Peter Reinert plays border patrol officer Davey efficiently and smoothly. Viewers also see something of the life and vitality of a small Mexican town, poor though it is, and how it contrasts with the soulless life of the American town on the other side of the border through the convenience store where Davey buys lunch. The harsh desert environment echoes the harshness of life in Manny’s home town and the isolation in which Americans on the other side of the border live.
Fortunately for Manny, when Davey finds him in the desert, the officer knows straight away that the boy is one of many youngsters being used by the drug cartels. But in real life, how many officers would show the same level of concern and compassion for illegal aliens like Manny?