In the documentary “Mojados: Through the Night,” Texas filmmaker Tommy Davis tags along with four Mexicans who make their way illegally from their country into the Texas desert. It is a brutal 120-mile journey which is complicated by uncooperative weather and poor planning in regard to water and food supplies.
The endless flow of illegal aliens up from Mexico has been captured on film many times (most notably the classic “El Norte”), but “Mojados: Through the Night”is different in that Davis is literally with the Mexicans from the start of the journey to the near-end (he separates from them and concludes the film with still photographs and explanatory narration of what befell the men). Being a part of this dangerous odyssey is compelling and thrilling, as Davis and the men find themselves climbing barbed wire fences and hiding under highways under the constant fear they will be discovered by the U.S. Border Patrol (though the sieve-like nature of the Texas-Mexico border would suggest the Border Patrol couldn’t detect a scent in a perfume factory). If anything, it is hard to imagine how many people would have the strength and faith in themselves to make such a perilous trip.
Davis shot “Mojados: Through the Night” over the course of 10 days, but it never seems as if he truly bonded with the men. They never truly open up to Davis (his lack of Spanish-speaking skills doesn’t help matters), and the conversations they have among themselves are often quotidian. Davis tries to fill in what’s happening by narrating large stretches of the film, which is somewhat distracting since his voice is eerily similar to Martin Sheen’s narrative tones from “Apocalypse Now” (you half expect him to start talking about being cooped up in Saigon instead of the Rio Grande).
“Mojados: Through the Night” clocks in at 65 minutes, which is curious given the amount of time Davis spent with his subjects. But the compact nature of the film provides more than enough food for thought, and the filmmaker’s ability to bring the illegals’ story to the screen is a triumph of his skills as a survivalist and an artist. This is a memorable and moving achievement.