REVIEW: La Parka [The Reaper] [2013]

Score: 9/10 | ★ ★ ★ ½

Rating: NR | Runtime: 29 minutes | Release Date: October 2013 (Mexico)
Director(s): Gabriel Serra
Writer(s): Gabriel Serra

“It’s your turn now”

With thought provoking musings on life and death, La Parka [The Reaper] provides a unique look at Mexican slaughterhouse employee Efraín Jiménez García. A husband and father who walked by the business one day to see a “Now Hiring” sign, Efraín has worked his way up from waste sweeper to killer during a twenty-five year career. He understands what it is he does—the difference between animal and man as well as the similarities inherent to watching a bull shot with tears in its eyes. He’s lived through the death of his father and sister, moving forward despite that pain for the family he has at home. One day he will be motionless like the beasts he slaughters, left in the nothingness it brings and the quiet of life’s hell being complete.

A visually stunning work, director Gabriel Serra opens his film with close-up static shots expertly cropped at intriguing angles while the cows shuffle through their claustrophobic lanes to meet their executioner. We look through holes in the walls as the animals slip, fall, and get back up only to shudder at the pull of a trigger before crumpling back to the ground and out a false wall for the next victim to follow. It’s a mater-of-fact look at the grotesque yet necessary process; one depicted with a cautious, non-judgmental eye while the narration and somber tone project a feeling of melancholy on top. Silent for the first six minutes besides ambient noise, it’s when Efraín first speaks above the images that we understand where we are and what’s happening.

He has a very keen sense of mortality with an almost utilitarian sheen. He mourned those he loved and moved on to live for those still alive. He mourns the bulls he kills in his own way too through sad, heavy eyes, but he continues so he may put food on the table. There’s a certain poetry to his words, poignant remarks about man’s weakness against these animals on the ground reversing once he’s positioned above them trapped in their cage. We understand and weigh the complexity of this situation that many find mundane, the layers of morality and survival usurping what others like to tidily label as murder from afar. The meat skinned, washed, and hung stands in for our own flesh—both eventually lifeless when mere minutes earlier possessed a spark of consciousness.

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