Tribeca 2023 Review: A Demolition Worker Hopes to Build a Future in Monica Sorelle’s Magnificent “Mountains”

Xavier (Atibon Nazaire) isn’t budging when the food vendor that serves lunch to all his coworkers on a demolition crew in Miami asks if he’d like a plate as well in “Mountains,” more than content with the meal prepared for him by his wife Esperance (Sheila Anozier). Still, he isn’t above asking for a little hot sauce, though he shakes his head at the bottle of Tapatio that’s offered when nothing less than some tangy pikliz from his native Haiti will do. His willingness to walk a few blocks home to get it when what’s being offered is unsatisfactory speaks volumes in Monica Sorelle’s marvelous debut feature, too proud to settle for less than what he wants and having to take a harder road to get back to a place in his life that used to be so simple.

It isn’t just the food he’d like to spice up in “Mountains,” when Xavier starts to think about buying a new house for himself and Esperance, with perhaps even a room for their son Junior (Chris Renois), although now in his twenties, he worries about him still living under his parents’ roof after dropping out of college. Careful to sprinkle in the narrative equivalent of scotch bonnets, Sorelle and co-writer Robert Colom arrive at something delicious, yet still a touch too hot for Xavier’s own taste as he puts his head down, accruing overtime to build up the money to put a down payment on slightly bigger property than where his family currently resides, already knowing which room Esperance could have devoted to her sewing and where to plant a soursop tree out front, having a proper lawn for the first time. Esperance may have her reservations when the home she already has seems to suit them both just fine, but isn’t one to discourage him and there wouldn’t seem to be much standing in the way of an upgrade.

Still, the irony of tearing down buildings to pay for new ones isn’t lost on Sorelle and Colom, who have shrewd ideas about structure both in relation to the film’s narrative and its setting of Miami where the slow, persistent creep of gentrification is starting to rear its ugly head in Little Haiti, making the more jobs that Xavier can get to put his goal of buying a house within reach, the less of a community he’ll have around him to make it feel like home. With cinematographer Javier Labrador Deulofeu’s exquisite compositions, every frame tells a story in “Mountains” and the increasingly grim reality can sneak up in the sun-soaked city where capturing the local flavor with scenes of colorful bodegas and street corner congregations starts to appear as an act of cultural preservation.

Although Xavier is undoubtedly the lead of the film, a wily camera doesn’t always follow him out the door, going on worthwhile excursions with Esperance and Junior at unexpected points to not only explore different parts of the area, but to see the city in different light than Xavier does, more accepting in some ways of what is and having different ideas about how to counter any feelings of restlessness. Yet Sorelle pulls off a rare feat in not making Xavier look foolish for wanting to look beyond the life he already has, yet presenting how much there is to appreciate right in front of him and though he might be at risk of overlooking it, “Mountains” doesn’t miss a thing.

“Mountains” will screen at Tribeca Festival at Village East on June 10th at 2:30 pm and June 16th at 5:15 pm.

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