Friday, December 09, 2005

The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada: A different western

Tommy Lee Jones first attempt at directing was surprisingly successful. With this film the western genre, long forgotten, has revived. Even though his directing lacks the atmosphere and the marks of someone who has managed to create his personal style, Tommy Lee Jones chose an interesting script with real characters and managed to serve it well. Let’s hope that his new career will prove to be as interesting as this film.
A Mexican illegal refugee lives and works in America. One of the border guards kills him. His friend played by Tommy lee Jones, himself, unburies him and transports him back to Mexico in order to burry him at his own country with his people. Moreover, he forces his killer to follow and carry the corpse. The film is divided into two parts. In the first part the spectators are fed with all the background stories of the main characters. The second describes the trip to Mexico.
The Western genre has a long tradition in the American film Industry. It always presents the fear of the Americans for the Other (Indians, Mexicans) since their stories are situated near the borders. In a typical western the main character is a loner who has a moral code of his own. On the other hand westerns are usually placed in a semi-civilized environment where human life is vaguely appreciated and cherished.
The three Burials of Melquiades Estrada follows some of the western rules. It is also placed in the border land. The central character is truly an idealistic loner. On the other hand the film presents a unique respect for the human life. Not only the main character but all the persons that appear in the film refuse to kill ao let die a man. In the contemporary world where everyday violence and death rule it is syprisigly to encounter a film with such strong feeling on the value of human life.
In the film there are several instances where the respect to life is demonstrated. When justice is not served and the border guard escapes with murder, the protagonist begins a journey of vengeance. In the end, though, he doesn’t kill the border guard. He is satisfied when the guard realizes the full weight of taking the life of another and asks forgiveness. An old man who lives alone in the wilderness asks the heroes to be killed. They however refuse to kill him. In return the old man doesn’t betray the runaways even though they didn’t grant him his wish. The policeman never takes his free shot even though he has every lawful justification to kill the hero. The Mexican passerby, the one who takes money in order to help the refugees to pass the border (not a man of great moral stand) gives up his job in order to help some unknown gringo and save his life. The Mexican girl heals the guard who beat her and broke her nose. She saves his life and accepts him to sit and work by her side.
The three burials of Melquiades Estrada is an optimistic film to the core. It talks about friendship beyond racism and even beyond death. It talks about the value of life in a borderland where usually the people on the other side of the border are not thought as exactly human. And all of these take place in contemporary Texas in the American State where the death penalty still exists! The optimism and the naivety of the film amaze me. But then again Tommy lee Jones talks about the how things should be not how they are and teaches us the outmost respect. In a world full of wearth and anger his protagonists insire peace. Good for him!

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