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‘Extraviada’ falls short on focus

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SENORITA EXTRAVIADA — ** 1/2 — Documentary on the disappearance of young factory workers in Mexico; in English and Spanish, with English subtitles; not rated, probable R (adult themes, mild profanity, brief drugs, nude artwork); see "Playing at local movie theaters" for theater listings.

The victims of the crimes described in "Senorita Extraviada" cry out for justice. Just as their stories cry out for a more-focused, less superficial documentary than this one.

Which is not to say that this is a bad film, as it examines the mysterious disappearance of hundreds of young Mexican women — the title roughly translates to "missing young woman." It certainly has its powerful, emotional moments.

But director/screenwriter/narrator Lourdes Portillo has a difficult time sticking to the subject at hand. Frustratingly, she cuts away in the middle of the film's most compelling stories. And the movie winds up pointing its finger in so many different directions that you start to wonder exactly who's being blamed here.

Though the kidnappings and murders have been going on for more than a decade, and in a number of Mexican towns near the U.S. border, the movie focuses on crimes taking place in Juarez and neighboring communities. The proliferation of U.S. factories nearby has led to an influx of young women, all of them working for — by American standards — a mere pittance. And, as the film notes, several of those girls have disappeared, turning up later in mass graves in the desert.

"Senorita Extraviada" also attempts to indict Mexican law-enforcement officials — especially Suly Ponce, who was appointed to deal with the growing problem — and to describe the atmosphere of frustration, paranoia and fear among those living in Juarez.

However, the film gives short shrift to the survivors and families of missing girls. Their stories are all too brief. Also, blaming the Free Trade Agreement — at least as much as Portillo does — seems ridiculous, considering that the kidnappings and murders were occurring long before the U.S. factories arrived.

"Senorita Extraviada" is not rated but would probably receive an R for adult themes (graphic discussion of rapes and murders), scattered use of mild profanity, brief drug content (references to drug use) and glimpses of nude artwork. Running time: 74 minutes.

E-MAIL: jeff@desnews.com