Encompassing the themes of loyalty and fraternity, Felipe Cazales’ new film Chicogrande displays a variable portrait of the notorious Pancho Villa and the violent war that became known as the Mexican Revolution.
Set amidst Mexico’s mountainous and deserted regions, the film tells the story of Chicogrande (Damian Alcazar), a man who’s loyalty to Villa and the revolution take him on a voyage to find a doctor for the wounded and hidden hero. It’s an old western of sorts, as Chicogrande faces the stealth of the sadistic American officer Major Butch Fenton (Daniel Martinez) who will come at nothing to find Villa and destroy him. Cazales’ ability to showcase Fenton’s torturous nature throughout the film (amassing images of Villa’s men being whipped and hanged on Fenton’s orders) subtlety foreshadows Chicogrande’s fate and doubly questions the price of the men who consider themselves Villistas.
Although the story is strikingly told, it’s Alcazar’s performance that pushes the film farther than I think Cazales imagined. His skill for adapting to Chicogrande’s loyal yet sometimes murderous behavior dictates his flexibility as an actor and blends incredibly with Cazales’ theme of loyalty and fraternity (it’s no wonder he won the Gloria Award at this year’s Chicago Latino Film Festival). Over and over again, his performance sucks you into the film, while his confidence and determination make you root for Chicogrande and his cause.
Overall, the film’s message bolsters the strength of the story, as do Cazales’ knack for storytelling and history. It’s a beautiful film that often clouds the lines of good and evil while continually questioning the price of loyalty.