The border area between the Mexican coastal provinces of Jalisco and Colima is dry, rocky and wild. The sparse population of this poor and isolated region speaks a dialect difficult to follow for outsiders. Their everyday battle for existence is larded with rituals, in which spirits and natural faith play an important role.
The film follows the old hunter Adelelmo Jimenez on his journeys through the forest, setting traps for wild animals and searching for medicinal plants. His pious wife Dolores stays at home, does the washing, prepares a frugal meal.
‘Penumbra’ is a term from optics and means half-shadow. Eduardo Villanueva shot his entire film in the hours between daylight and darkness. In this way, he augments the mood of a state in between, a social vacuum in which time seems to stand still. This is also a reference to the clair-obscur in paintings by for instance Caravaggio - intemperate, dramatic light-dark contrasts suggesting depth and volume.
Besides being painterly, Penumbra is deeply human. Via the lives of an ageing married couple, the film portrays a world that is disappearing. Adelelmo Suffers from asthma, which not only affects his lungs but also his mental defences. Dolores mourns for her son, who was stabbed to death trying to cross the Mexican-American border. She’s waiting for the end.