Los Bastardos

Empowered Bastards
Read this essay's full-text at Latin American Review of Books.

AMAT ESCALANTE’S Los Bastardos is a film about two undocumented, migrant workers, from Mexico named Jesús and Fausto, played by non-professional Mexican actors Jesús Moises Rodriguez and Rubén Sosa, and traces their life as day-labourers within a 24-hour period through a narrative set in the vast collage of cities and suburbs of Los Angeles County. [1]

The film opens with the two workers walking on a dry and wide river canal on their way to join other labourers waiting at a street corner for work. Together with four others, somebody hires them for a construction project. Then, after a full-day’s work, they get paid, go “home” to a section of a public park, and try to rest.

But their need for night-time diversion takes them to a quiet neighbourhood near the park where they follow their instincts. Something, after sundown, tells them they must rob a house.

Director Amat Escalante does not show us how they choose which house to rob; we just see them enter through a window. When the homeowner, Karen – played by professional actress Nina Zavarin – sees Jesús holding a shotgun, she screams. But she is able to control her panic and, shortly, she feeds them dinner, spends time at the pool with them, has sex with Jesús, then gets high with them before Fausto accidentally blows her head off.

When the homeowner’s son arrives home, he kills Jesús using their shotgun. Fortunately, since it was the last bullet, Fausto’s life is saved - he runs from the neighbourhood as fast as he can.

Now alone, Fausto finds employment picking strawberries and, as he does so, the camera zooms in on his face, slowly letting it dominate the screen. In this final shot, Escalante tries to capture or construct a quiet collision of chaos, alienation, and memories of violence from his life in southern California as Fausto scans something in the field not framed on-screen.

In 2008, Los Bastardos was an official selection for the Cannes Film Festival’s Un Certain Regard award. [2] Escalante’s first film, Sangre, had also been entered for the award in 2005. [3]

Since its Cannes premiere, Escalante’s second film continues to gain critical attention that often stresses its quiet visual-texture and unexpected, violent ending. In many ways, its unapologetic use of violence stimulates perceptions about its Mexican director’s political views. Certainly, US-Mexico border relations, immigration and race are elements that can all be readily implicated in the film’s uneasy ending.

There are many instances of Jesús’ and Fausto’s marginal status in southern California that can be explored. Indeed, their determination to survive in that savage world reveal the strength of their characters. But that strength must deal with their sense of cultural dislocation and alienation. The development of this ineluctable collision weakens these characters, impacts the moral dimension of their behavior, and contributes to or empowers Jesús’ and Fausto’s reckless disregard for the world around them.

And so, Escalante succeeds in calling his protagonists bastards, thus aptly giving his film its title: Los Bastardos.


Escalante’s initial image of southern California is a steady shot of a wide river canal, part of a drainage system that often saves the region’s vast assemblage of suburban areas from catastrophic hydraulic asphyxiations during the rainy season.

This shot is held for so long that, for a while, we suspect the two slow-moving objects in the middle of the screen are animals heading towards the camera. Eventually though, we recognise an older adult male, in his thirties, and another who appears stuck in the twilight of adolescence and adulthood: Jesús and Fausto, respectively.

Showing the small-ness of these two moving objects before we recognise they are people de-emphasises the humanity of the workers, and underlines the dominance of the concrete structure they are walking on - a vast structure built on the complex and calculated union of technology, ideas, manpower, politics, and funds.

Read this essay's full-text at
Latin American Review of Books.

Directed by Amat Escalante,
2008, 90 minutes (English and Spanish)
Mantarraya/Tres Tunas/No Dream/
Foprocine/Le Pacte/Ticoman

1 Los bastardos at IMDB
2 Cannes Film Festival link
3 Short article about director on Cannes Film Festival website