Three years after the masterful city portraiture of Tchoupitoulas, that experiential, lightly fictionalized doc that passed off months of shooting as some local kids’ long night out in New Orleans, Bill and Turner Ross have given us another pressing look at an American town belonging to a wider world.
Western, concerning life and death in Eagle Pass, Texas, and the neighboring Piedras Negras, Mexico, isn’t the dream-along you-are-there fantasia of Tchoupitoulas, although the Rosses do summon up some visions, all composed with rare inventive beauty: rain crashing down on a fair; a sunny-day parade observed from the windows of a dank pool hall.
But Western, as its title suggests, concerns frontier conflict — and everyone on either side of the border is too nervous to glaze over staring at the lights of the Tilt-A-Whirl. The Rosses shadow Eagle Pass mayor Chad Foster, a proudly bilingual optimist encouraging development and friendship all along the International Bridge over the Rio Grande, and Martin Wall, a cattleman whose family has been bringing herds up from Mexico for generations.
But both men’s lives get upended by international troubles: American fear and xenophobia, represented here in the hate mail Foster receives, and Mexico’s terrifying cartel-war headlines. The drug violence claims the life of one person we meet on camera, and it inspires the federal government to shut down the bridge connecting Eagle Pass and Piedras Negras. The opening scenes, of Foster trumpeting the friendship between the two towns and two countries, already feels hopeful and impossible the first time you see the film — the second, it’s almost too much to bear. The film, a hard jewel of beauty and reportage, demands and rewards that second viewing.
Directed by Bill and Turner Ross
Opens September 25, IFC Center