BFI London Film Festival presents The Hole in the Fence; book festival tickets here.
Why do we build walls and fences? Often the purpose is to keep people out, a physical warning to stay clear constructed from brick or wire. However, by keeping people out, we also pen ourselves in, the safety of our human enclosure becoming a social prison. Here our distrust of the outside world grows within our self-made pen as fears of a possible invasion eat away at us. Politicians and religious leaders play with the anxiety these walls and fences generate; they praise the isolation of nationhood and stoke fear of what lies beyond. After all, anyone outside the wall or fence must be a savage, a delinquent or criminal just waiting to subvert and destroy your prison paradise.
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By stoking this fear of invasion, politicians and religious leaders build new walls around us in the name of faith, security, defence or nationalism. These walls are not just physical in construct; they are mental. Our socialisation, education, and religious or moral beliefs erect new barriers every day as we listen to the diatribe of those who hold power over us. However, no child is born believing in walls and fences; instead, these ideas and fears are taught. It is within these very discussions and themes that Joaquin del Paso’s The Hole in the Fence (El Hoyo en la Cerca) finds its powerful cinematic voice.
Deep in the Mexican countryside, a religious camp awaits the arrival of a group of boys and teachers. Each boy in attendance comes from an elite private school, the camp a training ground for a life of power, prestige, religion and purpose. As the boys excitedly disembark their coach, full of energy and anticipation for the weekend ahead, the teachers corral them into their dorm room while allowing a toxic atmosphere of bullying to permeate their behaviour. Surrounding the camp is a wire fence, its purpose to protect the boys from the dangers of the poor mountain village beyond it. But this fence is far more than a safety barrier; it is a prison wall.
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Within the confines of the camp, the boys are willing hostages to a diet of toxicity and manipulation that seeks to weed out any individuality and sensitivity in the name of god. Here the coming-of-age horror that ensues is full of deep and complex discussions on the socialisation of boys and creeping control of religious belief in maintaining the status quo.
Throughout the weekend, the boys are continually reminded that ‘God is Here’ ‘Dios está aquí’. However, far from being a comfort, this is a warning that their every action is being watched, every word judged and every weakness unpicked. Here, it’s not an omnipotent force that controls the boy’s behaviour but teachers in a camp where weakness is a failure, disability is a deficiency, and individuality is a sin.
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In this prison of privilege, the adults thrive on the power they wield, as they ensure the boys follow the same path they walked many years before. Here each boy must accept their role as a master of the universe surrounding them. After all, how could they possibly achieve success with the baggage of empathy or emotional intelligence?
Joaquin del Paso focuses his camera on the isolation and manipulation of the camp culture, gliding between each of the boys and the adults surrounding them as he builds a sense of impending doom. However, special attention is given to three boys, two of whom succumb to the violent lessons surrounding them, while the third fall’s victim. Here the film’s final act is nothing short of devastating as toxic control wins, the boys leaving the horror of the camp behind as future leaders.