Sabina (Mena) is a very young woman working as a singer and prostitute on the Guatemala side of the river. She dreams of making it to America, through Mexico, and becoming a professional singer. A series of ‘donors’ appear to help her: the owner of the ‘bar’ she works at, an ex-lover, a Mexican consul who is also a punter, a crooked Mexican cop – but this is definitely no fairy tale, though initially chirpy Sabina may look like she belongs in one.
I can’t think of a more relentlessly depressing film. All the other characters, except for a saintly boatman, are acting selfishly and Sabina is fucked over every opportunity that shows itself out of the river mud. Sabina is fucked for money, strangled and raped, beaten up. Her decline speeds up as her dreams seem to become more graspable; her few moments of ecstasy are dependent on a very troubled relationship. In fact, the only plus is that, despite the title, she does survive at the end, although her final quality of life is not enviable.
There’s a subplot exploring the relationship between ‘mara’ gangs in the area, the police and local politicians on both sides of the border. It all seems depressingly credible and the murderous racism shown by the gangs towards economic migrants travelling north is very hard to watch.
There is a lot of unsettling nudity in Sabina Rivas. Unsettling because Greisy Mena looks younger than 18 and because the nudity appears in situ, namely a sleazy brothel-bar. The context is definitely sexualised and something of that sleaze factor rubs off on the viewer. Afterwards you wonder if you haven’t been watching an exploitation film of an insidious kind. Be warned.
Review by Colin Dibben
The Precocious and Brief Life of Sabina Rivas is out now on DVD