“Tropic of Cancer” is a remarkably stripped down documentary that captures an almost lost way of life crossing paths with modern tourism. Documenting a poor family in the desert of central Mexico, the movie records traditional methods of capturing birds and slingshot hunting, as well as roadside selling, bargaining and begging to better-off passersby. The movie covers this and only this, depicting the routines of this life without any attempt to convey more information. While it has a sometimes wearying affect, at 53 minutes, it is successful in what it tries to accomplish.
“Tropic of Cancer” was put in Sundance’s Frontier selection, which is supposed to focus on experimental film but often simply highlights works that are slightly too eccentric for the other categories. This is a linear and straightforward documentary made unique through director Eugenio Polgovsky Ezcurra’s visual style and sound design. There is little dialogue, no voice over and no music until the last 10 minutes, prior to which the only sounds are those of nature and the characters’ actions within it. Sometimes when the camera pans it look choppy, but I believe this more has to do with the digital video format than an intentional experiment.
While this documentary isn’t likely to generate very much interest and probably isn’t a good tool to educate people about the culture, it is a successful work of cinema that allows the way of life to speak for itself.