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 made from brick or wire. However, by keeping people out, we also pen ourselves in, the safety of the human enclosure becoming a social prison. Our distrust of the outside world growing within our self-made pen as fears of invasion eat away at us. Politicians and religious leaders play with the anxiety these walls and fences generate; they praise the isolation of nationhood behind these barriers and stoke fear of what lies beyond their realm. After all, anyone outside of the wall or fence must be savage, a delinquent or criminal just waiting to subvert and destroy our prison paradise.
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By stoking this fear of invasion, our politicians and religious leaders expand the social walls surrounding us in the name of faith, security, defence and nationalism. But these walls are not just physical in construct they are mental. Our socialisation, education, religious or moral beliefs erecting new barriers every day as we listen to those who hold power over us, from politicians to religious leaders and parents. However, no child is born with these walls and fences; instead, these form throughout our youth. Their purpose, to protect and retain privilege, a sense of nationalism or a religious belief that sets us apart from others. These themes find a devastatingly powerful voice in Joaquin del Paso’s The Hole in the Fence (El hoyo en la cerca).
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Deep in the Mexican countryside, a religious camp awaits a group of boys and teachers. Each boy in attendance comes from an elite private school, the centre, a training ground of power, 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, allowing a toxic atmosphere of bullying to pervade.
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. Here the boys are unknowing hostages to a diet of toxic masculinity and religious manipulation that seeks to maintain privilege while weeding out individuality and sensitivity in the name of god. The coming-of-age social horror that ensues is full of deep and complex discussions on socialisation and religion. Each theme, providing us with a disturbing journey into the foundations of privilege and power.
Throughout the weekend, the boys are continually reminded that ‘God is Here’ ‘Dios está aquí’. However, far from being a comfort, it is a warning that every action is being watched, every word judged and every weakness unpicked. Here, an omnipotent force does not control the boy’s behaviour. Instead, this duty falls to the teachers, who mould each boy into an unfeeling shell of the teenager who arrived. In a camp where weakness is a failure, disability is a deficiency, and individuality is a sin.
In this prison of privilege, each adult thrives on the manipulation they wield, as they ensure the boys follow the same path they walked many years before. But, this adult drive is not just rooted in religious fervour but privilege and position. Here each boy must accept their role as master of the universe surrounding them. After all, how could they possibly successfully maintain power with the baggage of empathy and emotional intelligence? Here we can draw parallels with many classic British boarding school dramas such as If.. (1968) and Another Country (1984) as empathy is rejected and future leaders void of emotion are born. Meanwhile, many will undoubtedly draw parallels with Golding’s Lord of the Flies as the boys freely accept their power in the closing act.
Joaquin del Paso ensures his core narrative is never lost in the tangled and complex web of social themes he weaves. His sole focus, the isolation and manipulation of the camp and its culture. His camera gliding between each boy and adult as he builds a sense of impending doom. And while very much an ensemble piece, Joaquin del Paso emphasises the journey of three boys, two succumbing to the violent lessons surrounding them, while the third falls victim to the camp’s toxic culture. Here the relentless dissection of religion, power and social manipulation leave an indelible mark on the viewer. At the same time, the film’s final act is nothing short of devastating as manipulation wins, with the boy’s leaving as future leaders of the camps ongoing horror.
While you are here, why not explore more from BFI London Film Festival 2021