Review: All of Me (González Villaseñor, 2014) – SFIFF 2015


Courtesy of the San Francisco Film Society

An estimated two million migrants cross the border from Mexico to the U.S. every year. Many are from Central America, cutting through Mexico on “the Beast” (also known as “La tren de la muerte” or “The Death Train”), a network of freight trains that happens to pass through the small Mexican town of La Patrona. There, the “Patronas,” a group of local women, throw them bags of food and bottles of water to sustain them on their journey.

In his first film, González Villaseñor, who initially arrived on the scene for a radio program, documents and celebrates the astounding generosity of the Patronas. Living on the edge of poverty themselves, the women nonetheless risk life and livelihood (assisting migrants is illegal in Mexico) to feed the desperate travelers. Standing only a yard or two from the tracks, they repeatedly extend their arms with two water bottles tied together or several bags of food, waiting for the migrants to lean down and snatch them as the train passes.

The action is remarkably quick and purposeful. Watching the scenes, I couldn’t help but tense, worried each time that an arm would be yanked from its socket or a woman pulled beneath a rail wheel. Indeed, the Patronas have seen many accidents, oftentimes from the men jumping off to get the food and injuring themselves trying to get back on the moving train. At the same time, the film conveys a sense of breathless exhilaration, the joy and excitement that comes from this very visceral method of helping.

The Patronas are clearly more comfortable in the role of busy givers than as interviewees. In front of the camera, they turn shy, sometimes bluntly humorous. As their tales show, the women–some of them just out of girlhood, some of them grandmothers–have experienced their own share of hard knocks and circumvented dreams. Rather than embittering them, however, these hardships have made them compassionate to the plight of others. In return, we see the Patronas grow in confidence and hope as they talk about their work and the future.

There is nothing complicated about All of Me. It is a straightforward story of good people helping others. In a heart-warmingly virtuous cycle, some of those others have in turn come back to La Patrona to help the Patronas help more people. If you ever felt that you needed an antidote to all the bad news you were hearing, this story would be it. And if you ever imagined that you wanted to do some good but just didn’t have the time/means/energy, this story might inspire you.

Note: This documentary’s Spanish title, “Llévate, mis amores” (translated as “Take, my loves,”) is much more memorable and warm than its vague-sounding English one.