i picked up this film at random after being hooked by the cover art. like the hikers in the film, i had no idea what i was getting myself into. while not a particularly "polished" or grand film it was still very chilling. it's always the smaller things that make the biggest impact. i think this is because prior to this film i had never really seen the kind of paranoia on display here, seen the foundations laid so meticulously, except in an overly "preachy" way in American cinema (Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" for example). this was different however, and i think that it has a lot to do with the social climate and history of Mexico and above all, the talent of the director.
all the same, being a native New Mexican and in close proximity to such a vivid heritage, i think that this film has a very valid message about the madness of crowds and the unthinking, unfeeling, unaccountable and exploitative aspects of organized religion. i was raised without religion so my biases are limited (though some would say invalidated, ipso facto). i can't recall any film that i've seen, except "La Mala Educación" by Almodóvar (also an excellent film) that almost literally equates organized religion with organized crime. that may not have been the director's aim, but that's certainly what i got from it. but, it's not religion that's attacked here, it's the hypocrisy and manipulativeness of (exactly as a previous poster identified the priest) megalomaniacs (just like the jealous priest in "La Mala Educación"). while some people would jump to the conclusion that it's religion and the Catholic church or the ignorance of the indigenous peoples that are emphasized here, they're missing the point entirely. it reminded me much of the style of Buñuel who its possible Cazals was influenced by. like Buñuel, he employs these symbols and signs of the time, they help tell the story, but they do not distract nor are they the focus of the examinations in this film. the overtones are more social than they are religious, the questions it raises are more intellectual than theological.
one of the closest examples i can think of pertaining to this concept was actually contained in a line by a character in (ironically) a big-budget Hollywood film: "Men In Black". the line: "A person is smart. people are panicky, dumb, dangerous animals and you know it." this almost sums up "Canoa". this is what makes it unnerving. it catches you off guard. the smallest word (within the film literally amplified by the use of the loudspeakers) makes such a difference in the course of action that the characters in this film take. the entire town is itself a character. a big paranoid, schizophrenic, suspicious, and vindictive character. it also made me think of the biblical account of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. except in this instance the city is not destroyed but instead allowed to get away with its crimes...
it's not morbid, and not exploitative or cheap in its depiction of violence but contextualizes violence VERY effectively and this also adds to the overall tone. bouncing back and forth between the straightforward plot-driven scenes and the documentary-style interviews with the village people (also a device that brought to mind a Greek chorus), going between the crowds and the individual, seeing one person alone and then lost in a crowd is very disorienting but gives the film its power. the scenes where the most ordinary conversations seem out of place amidst the chaos of a riot give the film almost a postmodern quality that we see in the films of Tarantino and other younger directors (who seem to utilize this gimmick solely for its vulgar qualities). but of course, "Canoa" predates such films by over 20 years, is more serious in its tone, and is quantums more profound. this is definitely a film ahead of its time. what people see in American cinema today is actually pretty cheap if you ask me, when compared to a film such as "Canoa".
this is a powerful film.
i feel better having spent $1 to rent this than spending $10 to watch a movie at the cineplex... the smallest things can make the biggest difference.
see this film. it is excellent.