“Aqui no vive ninguna niña”
“There’s no girl here.”
In an isolated mountain town in Mexico, Ana (Ana Christina Ordóñez) and her mother Rita (Mayra Batalla) are digging a hole in the ground. They scoop pieces of earth with urgency to create a human sized pit. Ana lays in it to make sure it’s the right fit. Her wide eyed gaze connects with her mother’s and an unspoken promise to protect is born.
Noche de Fuego, directed by Tatiana Huezo, is a simmering tale about mothers, girlhood, and coming of age in a dangerous place.
Ana’s rural community is ruled by drug traffickers. It’s the type of town where girls have their hair cut short, where dead girls appear in bushes, and where poppy is picked for opium. In the midst of all this, Ana and her two friends play in imaginary worlds. As they get older, the deadly situation around them begins to creep closer, threatening to pop the magical bubble that the trio have created.
Huezo shapes a distinct feminine lens that is both delicate and fierce around her characters. It lies in Ana’s tears as her hair is shorn off, in her desire for teenage rebellion, in her school girl crushes, in her laughter and friendships.
While most of the film lingers in the atmospheric growing pains of womanhood, Noche de Fuego has a final act that burns — both figuratively and physically. In one of the film’s most critical moments, flames frame Ana (Mayra Membreño), now a teenager, and the people in her town. Smoke trails up towards the dark, night sky, along with the last bits of Ana’s innocence. There is a haunting look in Ana’s eyes as she realizes that nothing will ever be the same. The tragedy of the scene lies in the truth of the narrative, in the reality that so many girls and so many mothers face in Mexico today. At its height, the film sears its soul into the viewer’s mind.
The relationship that Ana has with her mother is often filled with tension and tightness. Rita is stern with her daughter as she grows and mothers her with seriousness. It’s Rita’s form of protecting Ana — to make her tough for the world around her, but in Ana’s eyes it feels cruel. The severeness between the two reaches a cathartic moment, perhaps the most poignant in the film, that calls back to the first scene of the film.
Noche De Fuego is a slow build, prioritizing character depth over plot for most of the film. Each minute creates another layer of dimension and each line between the leads is purposeful. The last act is packed with callbacks to earlier in the film. Patient viewers will be rewarded with an immense and heart wrenching finale.
Noche de Fuego is available to stream now on Netflix.
Thank you to Netflix for sharing a screener of this film.