Hundreds of people die every year trying to make the journey north across the US/Mexican border. It’s a journey which is fraught with danger and the odds of successfully avoiding the authorities and safely crossing to America are stacked against you. Indeed, hundreds of thousands of people find themselves detained by the US Border Patrol each year. However, for teenagers living in the north of Mexico there are few prospects and the promise of a better life is a huge pull. This exodus is tackled in Fernanda Valadez’s new film, Identifying Features (Sin Señas Particulares).

When Magdalena’s (Mercedes Hernández) son goes missing on route to the US border, she fears the worst.  Setting off on a journey to discover the truth, she meets other mothers along the way at different points on their own quests. Amongst the desolation and decay of the modern Mexican ‘wild west’ she encounters Miguel (David Illescas), a young man who has recently been deported and is searching for his own mother. The pair form an unlikely alliance as they travel through this dangerous wasteland.

Identifying Features is a powerful and startling debut which announces Fernanda Valadez as a major new voice in Mexican cinema. We join Magdalena as her odyssey takes her into uncharted territory. The despair and danger felt by many Mexicans is captured in sumptuous hues by Claudia Becerril Bulos’s beautiful cinematography. Whilst at its heart Identifying Features is vivid portrait of a country which has lost its way, the starkness of one mother’s plight isn’t merely documented on screen. Valadez weaves her tale, with a deft mastery and guile, into a nightmarish fever dream.

Identifying Features screened at London Film Festival.