Sundance 2020: Identifying Features

Touching on important topics in discussing crime, immigration and human rights, Identifying Features (Sin Señas Particulares) tells a riveting, poignant story of a mother’s unyielding, meandering search for her son.

Early in the film, we meet Jesús, who tells his 48-year-old single mother, Magdalena, that he is leaving their small, isolated home in Guanajuato, Mexico, for work in Arizona with his friend, Rigo. We don’t get to know Jesús that well, as drama unfolds two months later when we learn Magdalena hasn’t received notice that Jesús is safe, and she and Rigo’s mother turn to authorities to find their sons. Rigo’s body is soon found, and so is Jesús’s duffle bag, along with unidentifiable remains. While urged to sign a paper she can’t read accepting that her son is among the dead, Magdalena is inspired to instead keep searching by a mother who gave up on finding her child too soon. Magdalena attempts to retrace Jesús’s steps, eventually receiving help from a recent deportee and coming face to face with the violence that Jesús had previously encountered.

While some background on Jesús and Rigo’s relationship and home life could add some depth, it’s still easy to become wrapped in Magdalena’s search in the face of her guilt, an unforgiving environment and a lack of empathy from officials. Mercedes Hernández (Magdalena) gives a stoic, memorable performance throughout the film.

Like Magdalena, director and producer Fernanda Valadez hails from Guanajuato. Her first short film, De Este Mundo, received the best short film award at the Guanajuato Film Festival. Another of her shorts, 400 Bags, has received awards around the world. Identifying Features is Valadez’s first feature film.

For another take on this film, read Michael Mejia’s review.

Upcoming screenings:

Sunday, Jan. 26, 9 p.m., Tower Theatre, SLC

Monday, Jan. 27, 12 p.m., Temple Theatre, Park City

Friday, Jan. 31, 7 p.m., Redstone Cinema 2, Park City

Saturday, Feb. 1, 10 a.m., Holiday Village Cinema 4, Park City

Jaime Winston
Jaime Winston
Jaime is a contributing writer for Salt Lake magazine. Formerly, he served as our editorial intern, then as our assistant web editor, and, finally, as our web editor. While he covers many different topics, he is especially interested in nerdy entertainment, from FanX's artist alley to Sundance's Midnight screenings.

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