In the small city of McAllen, Texas, a human rights battle is waged in close quarters. On the Divide follows Denisse, Rey, and Mercedes, three people whose lives have been touched deeply by the politics of women’s reproductive rights. Close to the Mexican border, McAllen is ‘neither here nor there’, in the words of Denisse, a volunteer escort at the McAllen Whole Woman’s Health clinic. The city is home to the only clinic providing abortion in the southern Texas area. The clinic’s service providers and patients face virulent opposition from local religious and conservative groups.

On the Divide directly presents Denissee and Mercedes’s opposing views on abortion with attentive respect. The backgrounds of their ideologies are genuinely fascinating, and how their beliefs and backgrounds unfold create a solid narrative for this moving documentary. The film veers between telling a broader story of ideology and giving a portrait-style focus on Denisse and Mercedes. Rey, an older man working as security for the abortion clinic, gets lost along the way, though his story is interesting and dramatic enough for its own film.

While beautifully told and presented, On the Divide loses its foothold on what kind of film it wants to be. Its protagonists are sympathetic and their stories heart-wrenching, but between the three, each is never quite given direct enough focus. They are instead filmed via a detached candid viewpoint, over a long duration that risks losing the thread of its events.

Themes of abortion, religion, domestic violence, drug use, and ideological violence are present here. While their interconnectedness is central to the story of McAllen and its inhabitants, 79 minutes is too cramped for their significance of all these narratives. Directors Maya Cueva and Leah Galant offer a glimpse of a story that demands a greater and deeper focus. Nonetheless, On the Divide is a well-paced and riveting film about nothing short of life and death.



DIRECTORS: Maya Cueva, Leah Galant

WRITERS: Maya Cueva, Leah Galant

SYNOPSIS: Denisse, Mercedes and Rey are all impacted by the issue of women’s reproductive rights and the intense political debates surrounding it in a small town in southern Texas.