Tribeca 2022 Review: Rodrigo Reyes’ “Sansón and Me” Becomes a Sensational Living Document

In a parallel life from his own as a filmmaker, Rodrigo Reyes offers his services as a translator for the courts, communicating with Spanish-speaking defendants as their court proceedings unfold in English and in “Sansón and Me,” he brings his work from one realm into another when he can’t shake the case of Sansón Noe Andrade, a 19-year-old he assisted through a trial in which Sansón was ultimately sentenced to life in prison for serving as the accomplice to a murder committed by his brother-in-law by driving the car that took him to the scene of the crime in California. As Reyes tells Sansón after deciding to reach out to him, “I can’t make this movie to free you – that’s not the case here,” when the evidence against him isn’t in dispute, but the filmmaker can continue offering a connection to the outside world for Sansón after he’s incarcerated, creating a presence for him on the outside with an ongoing production that reminds others he exists and becoming a go-between for his family in Mexico who could easily lose all track of him.

Reyes, who previously blurred the lines between reality and fiction on “499,” his retelling of the Spanish conquest of Mexico, emerges with something that can’t be denied in “Sansón and Me” when the necessity to tell Andrade’s story largely without him physically – prison officials won’t allow their meetings to be recorded – leads the director to a far more inventive alternative. Similar to Heidi Ewing’s recent “I Carry You With Me” in which the film’s Mexican subjects couldn’t return for fear they’d never get back to the lives they established in America, “Sansón and Me” requires Reyes to imagine what Sansón’s life was in the small Tecomán based on the memories that arise in their correspondence without him. However, what the filmmaker comes up with can’t be exactly be described as dramatic recreation when he enlists Andrade’s real-life relatives to play out scenes from Sansón’s youth, providing them with fresh thoughts of him and allowing Reyes to see how his absence has taken a toll as well as how the past may be repeating itself as Tonito, Sansón’s young nephew who is growing up under the same impoverished conditions as he did, becomes increasingly irritable as filming wears on when his mother (and Sansón’s sister) Debora grows distant.

Besides capturing how Sansón’s history starts to rhyme with the present, illuminating an entire vicious cycle that it’s difficult to break away from, Reyes generously offers up nuggets from his own life as a mirror for Sansón’s inability to ever be allowed to find his footing, knowing from how he was raised and coming to adjust to a new life in the U.S. that every step is uncertain and could quite easily lead in the wrong direction. All the work it takes for Reyes to relate a story that shouldn’t be so hard to tell – practically, if not emotionally – becomes analogous as well for a tale where so many outside forces appear to conspire against Sansón to ensure his life turned out the way it did with no opportunity for a second chance. Bringing out the inner beauty of his words and allowing them to flourish with both a tender voiceover and exquisite imagery of Tecomán where the brilliant colors of the seaside village explode off the screen, the film conveys the full dimensionality of Sansón’s experience that has so tragically been reduced to the size of a small cell and while a life sentence may threaten him with complete erasure, Reyes uses the full strength of the form to promise immortality.

“Sansón and Me” will screen again at Tribeca on June 13th at 4:30 pm at the Village East and June 14th at 6 pm at the Cinepolis Chelsea. It will also be available to stream at home on the Tribeca platform beginning June 14th at 6 pm through the end of the festival on June 19th.