Cielito Lindo begins with the sound of a car crash. We then fade onto a close-up shot of a man’s scarred face; he lies in the middle of the street, staring helplessly at what we presume was his car, which is now up in flames. So far, so good. The story proper begins with a young orderly at a mental hospital helping the car crash survivor escape. His name is Pablo Pastor (Alejandro Alcondéz), and it seems all he wants to do is go back to his wife and son. The orderly lets Pablo use her brother’s papaya truck to drive off the premises. Still good – a lot of tension is being built, and there’s an intriguing air of mystery surrounding Pablo. His escape is far from believable, but since when has that ever stopped anyone from enjoying a movie?
The next morning, he happens upon a wedding, and this is where I start getting confused. Immediately after the ceremony, the groom, a crime boss named Borowski (Ilia Volok), learns that his bride, Nicole (Nicole Paggi), has been sleeping with his bodyguard, both of whom are plotting steal a stone box he has already stolen. Nicole escapes with the box, enters Pablo’s vehicle at gunpoint, and demands that he drive her away. They wind up at a motel, although they don’t stay long, for their being pursued not only by Borowski’s men, but also by two corrupt cops (David Castro and Bernardo Peña), who are also after the stone box. Pablo and Nicole get separated at a train station, leaving the former in possession of the box, hidden in a suitcase. What’s inside it? A glowing blue amulet called Cielito Lindo, which means Beautiful Heaven. Some say it’s responsible for the annual rainfall.
Nicole, meanwhile, is on a quest to track Pablo down. She hopes to talk to his wife, who he said he was on his way to see. She’s briefly assisted by a transvestite who chews gum like a horse and dresses like a cheap Brittany Spears impersonator. In exchange for his services, Nicole must give him her earrings. If you’re going to include a character like this, wouldn’t it be a good idea to actually involve him? Why introduce him, use him only when it’s convenient, and then drop him from the story ten minutes later?
Now confusion gives way to incompetency. As Pablo wanders the Mexican desert with the amulet, he tries to make sense of his own situation. How did he end up in a mental institution? Why was he in a car crash? And how is he going to get back home to his family? All he has to go on are sporadic flashback images of cloudy skies and a boy kicking a soccer ball. A rattlesnake bite brings him into an Indian village, where he stumbles into an open grave. The people rescue him and treat his wounds. They tell Pablo that, because of the drought, they’re likely to be leaving their homes. They also tell him that his nightmares may in fact be memories, and that he should listen to them if he wants them to stop haunting him.
In the meantime, he must rescue Nicole, who has been kidnapped by Borowski. He must cooperate with the corrupt cops and tell them the location of the amulet, which he has hidden. He must also face the wrath of Borowski’s right hand man, known only as the Matador (Nestor Serrano), who literally stabs people in the back and relates everything to bulls and bullfighting.
I’m describing a lot, but I’m no closer saying what this movie is about. I don’t know what this movie is about. It’s an incomprehensible mess. It contains two plotlines that (a) are constructed to have as little to do with each other as possible, and (b) aren’t all that good in and of themselves. When the Cielito Lindo isn’t being the film’s MacGuffin in a low rent retread of a treasure hunt, then it’s all about Pablo, who, because of psychological trauma, is unable to recall a specific memory. The movie gives us no clear reason why Pablo is so deeply involved with the amulet; he’s not motivated by it, nor does he wish to possess it. And yet, he’s compelled to do something about the power play between Nicole, Borowski, and the cops. He goes through the film as if he was the hero, and yet he’s nothing more than a pawn.
Maybe the film isn’t really about the Cielito Lindo. Is it merely a metaphor? If so, then what is it a metaphor of? Creating life out of lifelessness? An end to a spiritual/emotional/physical drought? Weather patterns? Perhaps the film’s tagline will help: “Death itself is not traumatic, rather what dies inside of you while you remain with breath.” No, that didn’t help at all. It’s bad enough that Alejandro Alcondéz is the star of this cinematic morass. Why did he also have to be the writer, the co-director, the producer, the executive producer, and one of the two editors? Doesn’t he realize that this gives him almost no latitude, that the failure of Cielito Lindo is pretty much entirely his fault? Next time, he should think about giving some of those jobs to more talented people. I suggest he start with a screenwriter who knows what he or she is doing.