Issa López is a filmmaker that a lot of people should look out for. After its official screening at the Fantasia International Film Festival, her film Tigers Are Not Afraid will definitely make moviegoers remember her as one of the most talented directors in the industry. Taking place during a devastating Mexican drug war, it’s about a group of kids escaping the cartels and the ghosts they face every single day. A girl named Estrella (played marvellously by Paola Lara) has been looking for her missing mother, and then gets tangled up in conflict between the abandoned kids and the cartel members. It’s not an easy watch for sure – it’s an intense and emotional time at the movie theatre.
Tigers Are Not Afraid really asks the audience to pay attention, which adds a lot to the movie. Even if it’s dark and grim, it’s still visually mesmerizing. Whenever you see surreal elements happening on screen, it’s not only spectacular to look at, but it’s also important for the plot. Issa López uses metaphorical imagery to tell this tale and it’s quite beautiful. While some people might not like that aspect of the film, it doesn’t take away the fact that it makes the story more engaging.
As mentioned, the lead actress Paola Lara gives an amazing and memorable performance as Estrella. She’s very likeable, even if she’s stuck in a depressing and damaged world. Her maturity adds a lot to the chemistry between her and the other children of the group. The scene-stealer is the young Juan Ramón López as the gang’s leader named Shine. His character is undeniably arrogant, but it’s justified. He just wants to take care of his friends, and you completely understand where he’s coming from. While Estrella and Shine are absolutely phenomenal, some of the other kids unfortunately don’t have a lot of major character development. However, the director still does a good job adding some personal and emotional aspects to them. It’s also well-paced; it takes its time to develop the main characters’ struggles. You really feel bad for these kids and it’s sad to see them so emotionally and physically hurt. When the bad guys are causing them pain in some scenes, it’s rough to watch for sure, but it allows the movie to be more intense and gritty. What’s also worth praising is that nothing feels rushed or irrelevant, because the director wants each scene to serve its purpose. The film is truly an emotional and metaphorical character-driven story, and it does that really well.
In the end, this is a fantastic movie. With a beautifully told story, great direction, mesmerizing cinematography and terrific performances, they all add up to create a marvellous piece of cinema. It’s an engaging, metaphorical, dark, and intense tale about these kids’ survival and humanity. There’s no doubt that this perfectly showcases Issa López’s talent as a wonderful filmmaker. Tigers Are Not Afraid is simply one of the best films from the festival.