Narco Cultura Review By Gabriella Forster

Narco Cultura
Director: Shaul Schwartz

In the documentary, Narco Cultura, the affects of Mexican cartel culture are examined through the eyes of a Mexican forensics officer of Juarez, juxtaposed with a Mexican-American narco corrida singer who praises the lives and the lifestyle of the same hunted cartel leaders. The documentary follows their daily lives and interactions, acting as a fly on the wall, throughout it all. The film is shown in a way that simply displays the feelings and lives of each person, without the audience ever seeing or hearing the documentary makers. There is no bias or government opinion inserted into the film at any given point, making the film as honest and real as possible, by cutting out any shots of the camera crew and others involved in the film, as well as by using the footage they collected to simply recreate the ideas of those involved in the project, rather than trying to create a new view point as a result of the information gathered.
The film quality was very polished and clean looking, for the most part. At times, the end of the scenes would blur, as a transition to the next scene, leaving just enough time in between one viewpoint and the next to show a stark difference of opinion about the same criminals or legends of power—as each sees them in their own minds. It was extremely effective to use this approach in the filming of Narco Cultura because metaphorically, the difference in opinion between the Mexican forensics officer and the narco corrida singer, tend to blend together into the overarching power that Mexican drug cartels have over both, and the groups of people they represent in society. The fact that the director, or any other member of the crew, was not shown or heard in the film, added to the feeling that the audience was hearing the opinions and the stories of the cop and the singer firsthand.
As far as myth is concerned, it was interesting to see how the forensics officer’s myth was consumed with doing justice and what he felt was right, even if it meant putting himself in danger, because his job was what he could contribute to the world and what he was good at. In contrast, the myth of the narco corrida singer seemed to be split between the same traditional family values that the officer in Mexico believed in, however the singer also believed fervently in the power of the cartel leaders. To honor these leaders, he and his band members slung bazookas and other weapons over their shoulders at live performances, imitating the same type of tough-guy attitude, and seemed to pay respects to the Sinaloa cartel at a gravesite in Mexico. It appears strange to the audience that the singer cannot see how he is promoting a culture and a type of power, that however admirable and exciting it may seem, is the same type of demented and dark power that could ruin the beautiful family he has been blessed with.
The content of the film is certainly independent because this issue, no matter how prevalent a part of American culture it has been over the last few years, the reactions in the audience make me think it safe to assume that most Americans are oblivious to what is actually going on. Mainstream media tells people that Mexico is dangerous and it has been made clear with the Mexican government’s declaration of war that drug cartels are a problem that is far from over. Narco Cultura offers audiences a perspective that has not been considered, made public, or explored much further than the newsworthy headlines. I do not know if mainstream studios and general media would feel comfortable airing the perspective that a Mexican-American believes the only way to gain respect is by being one of these criminal cartel members. At the end of the film, a sense of submissiveness was brought to the attention of the audience by the police officer on screen; something that really makes audiences think if they are the ones being submissive about the issue and how it affects their lives.
During the question and answer period, the director stated that they had tried to portray the stories of the two men in the film in an honest way without government thoughts. He also pointed out that the United States is very much involved with the issue, as much as it may want to brush it under the rug, specifically saying that this is our war as Americans, our money, and our weapons. In making the film, they wanted to how endless the cycle is and how people are drawn to war. Despite the sometimes disturbing narco corridas that have been banned from Mexico, the director told the audience that he still believes in freedom of speech and that he sees no reason why the songs should not continue to be made available in U.S. Target and Walmart stores, in order to educate people about is happening.
For me, the most powerful moment of the film happened near the end of the film when the narco corrida singers went to Mexico and visited a private cemetery where many drug cartel members were buried in lavish tombs that looked like colorful cities. Something that looked so beautiful, painted in bright happy colors, and celebrating the lives of the dead, was actually celebrating criminal lives that were the cause of so many innocent deaths. It was simply shocking to see the glory these destructive cartel members had gained, when it was clear the people they had killed were scarcely left a tomb stone, sometimes being buried in mass graves that left no trace behind for their families—not even an explanation as to why. It appalled me that the singer seemed near tears at the end of his visit, pouring out some of his beer on the dirt beside a grave, as a payment of respect to a man whom I can only imagine was never worthy of such respect, and rather punishment for his deeds.

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