The world of Omar Flores Sarabia's Peyote is a place where vision is at the least double-sighted. One looks through windows, cameras, computer screens, in and through other's eyes. Peyote in this movie is not so much a psychedelic as it is the elusive goal of vision, of change. Like most stories about trips, whether a road trip or a psychological one (this movie, in a sense, contains both), the journey is more important than the goal. Its value lies in what one sees along the way. What holds one's attention throughout this film is, first, the clarity, and beauty, of the director's eye. He does not flinch from staring. He does not mind being still or moving slowly. He looks carefully at color, at the design of what (seemingly) is there. Though there are touches of magic realism in the film, the magic of the film lies in the reality of what is seen, its strange, almost uncanny naturalism. Yet it is a naturalism always delayed, suspended: the naturalism of desire.
Marco and Pablo are in many ways opposites, in looks, class, demeanor, manners, attitude. Yet that is only half true. They are both alone. They are both almost wildly (if silently) uncertain of who they are. This is a two character film. Save for a couple of instances (the number depends upon on how one reads an image and words on a computer), there is no one else on screen. They talk about their family, their pasts, though Marco tells Pablo more than Pablo says to Marco. But how much of what they say is true? Marco may or may not be lying much or at least some of the time. They play child-like games, alone or with one another, like keep-away. They taunt each other, though, again, Marco does more of the mocking than Pablo. But this is more than games. Through it all both are being changed in more than just a psychological sense, whatever that phrase might mean.
In the film, place, bleak in some senses, in others brilliant, in many ways stunning and beautiful, is transformative. For Pablo, in particular, the world into which he rides, walks, runs is an elsewhere, a world outside the confines of his room and his own, in some way, still childhood-bound imagination. The strangeness of the world to him is what expands him. Because, at least as Marco tells the story, that world is his own past, it is not so strange to him; it is a world to which he is returning. Yet sometimes what is new and what is repetition are not that dissimilar when the world, this town, this landscape, pushes back against who you would claim to be. Both are made more strange to themselves because of where they find themselves.
Do either of them actually ingest peyote? There is no evidence of it. Yet there is the experience of it nonetheless. This, too, is part of the doubling of visions in the film, the unreached goal nonetheless experienced. Do they make love? The scene in which they kiss, the long, slow delay of it, the gradual movements of their lips toward one another, is one of the most sensual moments I have ever seen in a movie. But the fuller realization of their love making is shown only later, when they are apart, in memory, the past and the present enfolded and perhaps, therefore, necessarily imagined, though not (and this is equally important) only imagined.
When Marco shows Pablo where his, Marco's father wanted to have his store, filming it with Pablo's filched camera, is the shot evidence that the story he told to Pablo earlier is true? Is the image meant to ascertain its reality? Or does it just add to the fib? I am not sure such more or less commonplace post-modern reflections (in that word's several senses) are much to Sarabia's point. Rather, it would seem to be more about how such images themselves are the source of desire, the love between them which, by film's end, seems almost heightened, made more passionate, by their separation.
This is a beautiful film to look at, especially the desert and the old town to which they go. But both of those places are far more than picturesque. The two young men, in a nearly archetypal way, travel back and out, stripped down to what changes them. Both hurt themselves and each other, both bleed, both lie and love. Through it all, it is a complex visual imagination which watches, filming with an acute sense of detail, clarity, and complexity, nearly always seeing with more than just one pair of eyes. The young men film each other and are filmed. In this interplay, together and apart, they come to themselves and back again to each other, at least as far as memory, and imagination, can take them.