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by Clara Trischler

grade: 7.5

In Night of the Coyotes Clara Trischler has been particularly skilful in telling us not one, but many stories within a reality in which past and present coexist on a daily basis, in which a calm serenity well conceals a deeper melancholy. At the Diagonale 2024.

Unusual traditions

It is late at night and cold. Some men are walking furtively, trying not to be noticed by anyone. They are accompanied by shady people towards an unknown destination. Where will they be heading? The atmosphere immediately conveys a strong tension, everything foreshadows something terrible. This is how the documentary Night of the Coyotes opens, directed by Clara Trischler and premiered in Austria at the Diagonale 2024, where it won the Best Soundtrack Award for a Documentary.

The opening of Night of the Coyotes, therefore, reminds us so much of a thriller. Why this particular choice? Simple: what Clara Trischler wanted to tell in this interesting documentary is a bizarre tradition in the small town of El Alberto, Mexico, about 1000 kilometres from the US border. It is here that the so-called ‘Caminata Nocturna’ takes place, nowadays an attraction especially for tourists, in which an attempted clandestine entry into the neighbouring country is simulated. Each of the participants is accompanied on this journey by so-called coyotes, who are supposed to help them cross the border. Scenes of (simulated) violence are not lacking, neither is tension. And so, this ‘Caminata Nocturna’ has slowly become famous over the years. But what is its real purpose? Simple staging or an exhortation to stay?

In Night of the Coyotes, therefore, Clara Trischler first tells us three stories of three people who live in El Alberto and who, in one way or another, seem determined to stay there forever, unlike many of their fellow citizens and family members who, instead, have preferred to move to the United States. One woman has lived there for many years, while her daughter moved away some time ago and would like her to join her. The woman, however, does not seem willing to leave her city and her country. A little girl, on the other hand, seems intrigued by a possible new life and would love to join her mother, who is already there and cannot return home due to the current laws. Finally, a man, long expelled from the United States, now works as a border guard and is one of the main organisers of the ‘Caminata Nocturna’.

El Alberto is a small town, where life flows seemingly quietly. Yet many have suffered and are still suffering from the absence of their loved ones, now far away and unable to return, now even dead on the way to the United States. Just as witnessed by the many empty houses, destined to remain so probably forever. What if happiness is, in fact, much closer than we think? In Night of the Coyotes, the director wants to show us precisely these ambivalent feelings experienced by many of her protagonists. A simple and contemplative directorial approach, which often lets the characters confide in front of the camera while they are intent on their daily activities, contrasts well with scenes of tension that are almost reminiscent of a fictional film.

Having always been interested in the stories of those who live in border areas, but who, at the same time, are not allowed to cross those borders (just think of the beautiful documentary The first Sea, for example), in Night of the Coyotes Clara Trischler has also proved to be particularly skilful in telling us not one but many stories within a reality in which past and present coexist (almost always) in harmony, in which a placid serenity well conceals a deeper melancholy, in which, in reality, nothing else is needed to be finally happy.

Original title: Night of the Coyotes
Directed by: Clara Trischler
Country/year: Austria, Germany / 2024
Running time: 79’
Genre: documentary
Screenplay: Clara Trischler
Cinematography: Miriam Ortiz Guzmán
Produced by: Horses & Fruits

Info: the page of Night of the Coyotes on the website of the Diagonale