Days of Grace AKA Días de gracia (Blu-ray) [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Cinema Libre
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (24th June 2015).
The Film

Best First Work: Everardo Valerio Gout (win), Best Actor: Tenoch Huerta (win), Best Supporting Actress: Eileen Yañez (win), Best Cinematography: Luis David Sansans (win), Best Editing: Hervé Schneid, José Salcedo, and Everardo Valerio Gout (win), Best Sound: Vincent Arnardi, Julien Perez, Frédéric Le Louet, Fernando Cámara, and Enrique Greiner (win), Best Production Design: Bernardo Trujillo (win), Best Score: Nick Cave, Warren Ellis, Atticus Ross, Shigeru Umebayashi, Claudia Sarne, and Leopold Ross (win), Best Direction: Everardo Valerio Gout (nominated), Best Supporting Actor: Kristyan Ferrer (nominated), Best Supporting Actor: Mario Zaragoza (nominated), Best Make-Up: Felipe Salazar (nominated), Best Special Effects: Ricardo Arvizu (nominated), Best Visual Effects (nominated), and Golden Ariel: Everardo Valerio Gout (nominated) - Ariel Awards, Mexico (2012)

Golden Camera: Everardo Valerio Gout (nominated) - Cannes Film Festival (2011)

Best Director: Everardo Valerio Gout (win), Best Original Score: Nick Cave, Warren Ellis, Atticus Ross, Shigeru Umebayashi, and Claudia Sarne (win), and Press Award: Everardo Valerio Gout (win) - Guadalajara Mexican Film Festival (2012)

Best Director and Special Jury Award: Everardo Valerio Gout (win) - Lleida Latin-American Film Festival 2012


The feature debut of Mexican filmmaker Everardo Valerio Gout follows the art film conceit of linking three separate storylines to reveal parallels between them; however, the individual stories – loosely based on three real kidnapping cases and their outcomes – are set during three consecutive soccer World Cups: the 2002 in Japan, the 2006 in Germany, and the 2010 in South Africa and examining the cases from the perspectives of the police, the victim, and the third victim's family. Soccer being a popular sport South of the Border, it is during these "days of grace" that the crime rate in Mexico goes down by thirty percent and both the police and criminals are believed to let their guard down. In 2002, badass cop Lupe Esparza (Tenoch Huerta) receives a commendation for a gang bust in which his Melquiades (Mario Zaragoza) partner is wounded. When Melquiades asks him to deliver an envelope to a mysterious contact, he opens it and discovers that his partner is somehow mixed up in the recent kidnapping of a television star. Comandante Jose (José Sefami) opens his eyes further to the widespread corruption on the force and recruits him into a secret unit that knocks down "protected" businesses. When Esparza reveals that he has a lead to the identity of the kidnappers, Jose insists they focus on the link between the kidnappings and the drug trade: La Madrina or "The Godmother" (Veronica Falcón). Esparza persists in his own investigation, which has tragic consequences for his wife Esperanza (Sonia Couoh) and newborn son Emiliano (named after Esparza's hero Zapata). In 2006, Victim X (Carlos Bardem) is abducted from his car by men dressed as police, blindfolded, and left in a cell under the guard of young Doroteo (Kristyan Ferrer) whose "scared straight" lesson from Esparza four years prior apparently didn't take. Subjected to beatings, verbal and physical abuse, and mutilation during his captivity as his wife and son apparently wrangle over the two million dollar ransom, he works desperately to gain Doroteo's trust as the reluctant young man's loyalty and machismo is continually tested by the ringleader only known as "Teacher". In 2010, housewife Susana Lozano's (Dolores Heredia) husband Arturo (Juan Carlos Remolina) has been taken for ransom. When all the negotiator's (Dagoberto Gama) investigation turns up is a mistress and a second family but no solid leads, and her brother/Arturo's business partner Cara (Gustavo Sánchez Parra) is unwilling to tell her what Arturo was involved with and why the family and business accounts are empty, Susana takes it upon herself to find the means to bring her husband home (for better or worse). Boxing hopeful Doroteo is now a sparring partner, but his involvement in the Hinojosa kidnapping may come back to haunt him when his sister Maxedonia (Eileen Yañez) – the Lozanos' maid – discovers his criminal past.
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Breathless in its pacing and breathtaking in its rough-hewn visual aesthetic – employing different aspect ratios and film gauges for the different timelines (a super wide 3:1 using anamorphic Super 16 to evoke the landscapes of a western for 2002, a claustrophobic 1.85:1 in grainy 8mm, 16mm, and 35mm for 2006, and anamorphic 2.4:1 in 35mm combined with telephoto lenses to evoke Susana's mindset as flat and fragmented) – Days of Grace starts out interestingly before revealing itself to be a gimmicky action film rather than a series of character studies that only hints at the mindsets of the victims and family of kidnappings (despite the four years of research the director did with victims, family, and investigators). The cop Esparza goes through the motions of a cop movie character: establishing himself as a badass, being disillusioned by corruption, double-crossed, losing his family, and turning vigilante. Victim X's – although the caption states that the 2006 story is the Hinojosa case – attempts to foster a friendship with Doroteo involves discussion of soccer and heavy-handed metaphors about boxing (similar to the ones Jose makes to Esparza about soccer and teamwork), and the identity of Teacher is not so surprising when he tells his captive that the reason that there is no justice in the world is because Jesus forgives everyone of their sins. In the 2010 storyline, interesting performances by Heredia and Yañez are reduced to trailer-friendly dramatic moments in a story that could have made a character-driven feature all of its own depicting the simultaneously exposed and isolated lives of a family awaiting news of an abducted loved one from both the kidnappers and the investigators (who expect them to carry on as usual with their accounts frozen and without being able to confide in anyone). In the special features, the director explains his intent with the visual aesthetic was an opportunity to explore all of the possibilities offered by the film medium before it became impossible with the push towards all-digital filmmaking. Despite the epic length and cast, Days of Grace looks and feels more like a portfolio of techniques and demonstration of proficiency in storytelling in different genres with little actual substance. The film's festival reception and awards should hopefully lead to a follow-up project which might allow the director to apply his visually dynamic style to a more focused story and characters.
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Video

Cinema Libre's single-layer MPEG-4 AVC rendering of this film adequately renders this multi-aspect ratio film where flare, glare, streaks, and physical occlusions of the lens are part of the film's complex texture (as well as enhanced grain from enlarging some shots). There may indeed be some compression artifacts from squeezing this two hour film and the extras onto a BD25, but they are hard to spot given the deliberate style. As mentioned above, the aspect ratio shifts from 3:1 to 2.4:1 to 1.85:1. The 1.85:1 shots are side-matted while maintaining the same image height as the 2.4:1 shots, so the latter is presumably the aspect ratio in which the film was exhibited as the side mattes can be seen sliding into the 2.4:1 frame during a 360-degree panning shot of a digital time-lapse showing the changes in a room from 2002 to 2010.
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Audio

Audio is offered in lossy Dolby Digital 5.0 (the case and menu specify 5.1) and 2.0 stereo, with the surround mix being the preferable option with an enveloping sound design of a hellish no man's land Mexico cityscape (even the claustrophobic interiors have a surround presence, with music supplanting effects during most of the 2010 scenes). The English subtitles are burned into the image in a suitable size, but the captions option is problematic in that it includes both the sound notations as well as all of the dialogue, so you have both centered permanent English subtitles at the bottom and optional subtitles of the same dialogue on the top of the frame and bouncing from side to side based on the position of characters sharing the frame.
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Extras

A number of featurettes provide some welcome context to the film. In "Visual Aesthetic" (9:10), director Gout and cinematographer Luis David Sansans discuss the reasons for choosing the different aspect ratios for the different storylines, the different film guages, the various makeshift filters, and the director's realizing his desire to fully exploit the possibilities of film as we move further into digital filmmaking. "Creating the Scores" (10:54) covers the director's choices of different composers for each of the storylines - Nick Cave and Warren Ellis for the 2002 sequences, Atticus Ross for the 2006 sequences, and Wong Kar Wai-favorite Shigeru Umebayashi for the 2010 parts of the film - and the differing styles of music. In "Pre-Production Process" (6:27), the director and cast discuss the four-year preparation for the film involving research into police files, interviews with kidnapping victims (including the relationships that develop with their captors) and their families, and exposing the actors to the sometimes explicit accounts to get into the mindsets of the characters. In "Making Music" (5:24), Tim Goldsworthy of the group Massive Attack discusses creating to songs for the film, including a cover of George Gershwin's "Summertime" (the Nina Simone and Janis Joplin versions are also heard in the film).
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The film's theatrical trailer (2:33) and a photo gallery round out the extras (in addition to three trailers accessible as start-up trailers or from the main menu).

Overall

 


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