SXSW 2023: Upon Entry Movie Review

Alberto Ammann, Laura Gómez and Bruna Cusí in Upon Entry. | Credit: © Óscar Fernández Orengo

Upon Entry

SXSW Film Festival Narrative Spotlight

Reviewed for by Abe Friedtanzer

Director: Alejandro Rojas, Juan Sebastián Vásquez

Writer: Alejandro Rojas, Juan Sebastián Vásquez

Cast: Alberto Ammann, Bruna Cusí, Ben Temple, Laura Gómez

Screened at: Alamo Lamar Drafthouse Cinema, Austin, TX, 3/10/23

Opens: March 10th, 2023 (World Premiere)

Traveling is not the calmest experience for every person. Frequent flyers breeze through security and pass through immigration with ease, and are frustrated by routine delays that impact their typical efficiency. But there are also many people who don’t have the luxury of booking whatever option they want or who may be flying for a serious and life-changing reason. Upon Entry follows one couple on what should be a straightforward journey that turns into anything but that when they are detained for questioning ahead of their connecting flight.

Diego (Alberto Ammann) and Elena (Bruna Cusí) board their flight in Barcelona to make use of the visas they have been granted to move to the United States. Upon landing at Newark International Airport, their hopes for an easy trip to Miami are derailed. Flagged for some reason unknown to them, they up in an interrogation room, where they are asked repeatedly about their relationship, how they obtained their visas, and what they might be hiding. As they get hungrier and more frustrated with the situation, new revelations come to light that give greater context to who they are as individuals and as a couple.

This film runs just seventy-four minutes, starting on a street in Spain but taking place almost entirely within the airport in Newark. On the plane, Diego practices his English and repeatedly checks to make sure that he still has his passport, which he nearly returns home for in the taxi before realizing it’s exactly where it should be. They get the airport officer who seems nicer and more understanding, and even though they speak in clear and comprehensible English, they are still told to come to another place, unaware of what fate awaits them and what they could have done to avoid being detained.

This film cleverly plays with audience expectations, creating a situation in which the idea of the American melting pot is severely challenged. But there are complexities, like the fact that the officer (Laura Gómez) interrogating them is fluent in Spanish, catching them off-guard when they complain to each other and then lulling them into a false sense of security as she doubles down on her questions and her suspicions. The United States is hardly an inviting destination, intent on, through this mysterious detention, forcing two foreigners into an uncomfortable place where they are all too aware that their full cooperation is key to getting them into the country.

There is something inherently relatable about what Diego and particularly Elena go through even for those who have never experienced anything like it. They immediately make mention of their connecting flight and their desire not to miss it, and Elena repeatedly asks for food and water. The fact that she is diabetic makes her especially concerned about needing to eat, and her attitude, at least at first, is to presume that there is just some misunderstanding that can be easily cleared up. As she realizes that is not the case, a sense of dread mixed with extreme irritation sets in, since these people, who have already been approved to move to America, are surely not deserving of this unwelcoming treatment.

Ammann and Cusí deliver effective performances that communicate the unneeded stress that builds within them as their ordeal stretches on and they see that it will not come to a swift and satisfactory end. Trapping audiences in the interrogation room with them enhances all the feelings this film instills in its viewers, and its short runtime means that it remains consistently engaging and unnerving. Directors Alejandro Rojas and Juan Sebastián Vasquez have crafted a tight, enthralling feature directorial debut with plenty of social commentary that only adds to its already worthwhile dramatic narrative.

74 minutes

Story: B+

Acting: B+

Technical: B+

Overall: B+

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