Close-Up is a feature that spotlights films now playing on MUBI. Julio Hernández Cordon's Buy Me a Gun, which is receiving an exclusive global online premiere on MUBI, is showing from July 12 – August 10, 2019 in MUBI's New Auteurs series.
Julio Hernández Cordon’s fifth fiction feature, Buy Me a Gun, is a magical-realist story, loosely based on the realities of Mexico’s drug trafficking, in which a group of children navigates an apocalyptic, dystopian world. In the vein of Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012), the film is powered by the underlying idea that children are equipped with all the emotional intelligence and resilience they need—if not to fully understand, then to survive, or to even transcend, the most egregious violence.
In the film, a young girl, Huck (Matilde Hernández Guinea), whose sweet, brittle voice guides us throughout in the voiceover, must pretend that she is a boy. In this futurist desert, women and girls have become a highly prized commodity. Most have already been stolen by traffickers, and Huck is being watched vigilantly by her dad, Rogelio (Rogelio Sosa). Himself embroiled with the traffickers (he may, in fact, have once been one of them), Rogelio survives by making himself useful. He manages a baseball court, where the traffickers play, and also entertains them as a member of a music band.
In Rogelio’s interactions with the traffickers, there is plenty of aggressiveness and depravity, which sometimes fits too neatly the common depictions of violent cabrons. The tenderness between Huck and Rogelio, however, is more delicately scripted. So is the longing they both harbor for Huck’s missing mother and older sister, who have also been kidnapped. In Rogelio’s most vulnerable moment, the little Huck, who mostly tries to help him recover from his drug addiction, becomes his unwilling drug dealer—a poignant recognition that drugs, while at the root of all their problems, are also a palliative for grief.
Huck’s best friends are all boys. She inadvertently mimics their games to mask her own gender. The film then crescendos to the sequence in which the boys go on a search for a severed hand: one of them was captured by the traffickers, and mutilated, before he escaped. The boys sneak up at night on the traffickers partying outdoors, and scour the coolers with ice where they think the hand might be—while Rogelio and Huck also turn up at the same party. A shootout suddenly erupts, and Huck finds herself the next morning in the desert strewn with corpses, before she finds the limb.
Cordón and the cinematographer Nicolás Wong (who also shot Cordón’s Lightning Falls Behind, 2017), frequently remind us that Buy Me a Gun’s limpidly rendered realism, which alludes to the actual drug trafficking, is deceptive. The moment when Huck retrieves her friend’s chopped-off hand from the cooler, for example, comes across like a bit from a B-movie, or a gory horror, as she comically examines the fake-looking stub. The subsequent shot of Huck walking across a field strewn with bodies is eerie yet too perfectly arranged, like a movie set, or a dream, while the boys’ search party could be a spoof on westerns.
Like a fable, the film contains a few magical twists. In one, Huck ends up helping the traffickers’ transgender honcho who survives the shootout. The two set out on a journey on an improvised raft, which echoes the bittersweet survival in New Orleans’ “Bathtub” in Beasts of the Southern Wild. And although this part is a missed opportunity to further probe the question of gender—around which the entire film is structured, but never truly lands—the sequence has its own rewards. The leader admonishes Huck about her mutilated friend (who was in fact his direct victim): “He’s a rat.” “He’s my friend,” Huck says. “But he’s a rat.” “He’s a rat to you. And you’re a rat too.”
This mini lesson in moral relativity lies at the heart of Cordón’s film. Huck overcomes fear, but her newfound stoicism betrays a resignation that is devastating to see in a small child. She has been let down too many times. When she aims a gun at the sleeping leader, whatever restorative justice or catharsis this scene may bring, its violence—which barely registers with the rest of the gang—is heartbreaking. Huck’s voice has promised us hope, passed down from daughter to daughter. But the girl wields the gun to gain respect of her male companions. She is now “el chefe,” in an ending that is hardly happy. It is here then that Cordón distinguishes himself from Zeiltin, by planting a doubt about the limits of magical thinking.