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The epic documentary Dark Suns reveals a shocking picture of contemporary Mexico, the country where drug cartels have essentially taken over. These lawbreakers kill thousands of people every year and rarely get convicted. Julien Elie’s Mexico is a nightmare where anyone can disappear, anybody can get killed, and everybody is in constant danger. Criminals produce mass graves while countless people look for the bones of loved ones.
An ode to death
The dead have a special place in Mexican tradition. Already, Sergei Eisenstein filmed the Day of the Dead – a Mexican holiday where people come together to honor those who have died and help them on their spiritual journey – for his visually stunning documentary Que Viva Mexico. In the unfinished film’s epilogue (1979 version), we see a grotesque party. Gorgeous women dance with oddly masked skeletons, the dead kiss each other and happy children eat skull-shaped cookies.
Elie takes another aesthetic approach. Although Dark Suns is composed of visually impressive black-and-white shots, the overall tone is much different. Instead of celebration, we witness hopeless struggle. In the film’s beginning, a woman’s voice reveals that many parts of Mexico are a huge mass grave, and during the movie, we come to realize that she is not talking metaphorically. Around 40,000 people have mysteriously vanished in Mexico since the 1970s. Many victims are still risking their lives and looking for family members. Others share painful details about the deaths of their loved ones.
Everybody is a target
The monumental two-and-a-half-hour documentary is divided into six chapters, each focusing on a specific victim group. The first part is dedicated to femicide – the killing of young women because of gender. The following chapters reveal other typical targets are children, journalists, human rights activists, priests, and immigrants. Basically, anyone can be kidnapped or killed by these organized crime groups.
These strong and determined people do the job policemen and politicians avoid.
Many relatives of the murdered and missing have become activists who, despite the harsh environment, keep asking questions and investigating the brutal crimes. These strong and determined people do the job policemen and politicians avoid. The protagonists explain the motives behind the cruel assassinations and kidnappings – killing women for sport, enslaving people in forced labor and prostitution, fighting other criminal groups, attacking those who expose information and sowing fear in society. However, many crime motives will stay hidden and many bones will never be found. A protagonist in the film is looking for his brother. He wants to move abroad with his family but his mother can’t leave without knowing what has happened to her son. The man is close to tears as he explains that while looking for his brother, he keeps finding the mortal remains of so many others killed.
In the territory of killers
«You can scream but nobody would hear». With tight frames, meditatively harsh landscape shots, and strong testimonies, the Elie creates the feeling of a place where everybody is in danger. Elie’s Mexico is very different from Central America’s touristic paradise. While international visitors enjoy the beaches, go sightseeing, and drink cocktails, many locals suffer. Numerous victims indicate that the government and the police have been involved in countless cases. Bribery and corruption have led to a situation where officials spread lies, hide evidence, and torture people to extract false facts. The officials have become the administrators of the brutal terror.
A scream for help
The movie leaves a strange aftermath. Elie creates an awareness of the problem’s scale, but it is not in his power to offer solutions. Only radical systemic changes could hit the drug cartel structures. The Mexican Drug War is obviously ineffective and even attributes to increased violence. Poverty in the country is high. Many young men still join cartels to earn money.
America’s president Trump is ridiculously famous for his intentions to build a wall along the country’s border with Mexico. This simple populist solution would not work but other mechanisms could be implemented to reduce drug and human trafficking between Mexico and USA. At the moment the black market between the two continues to feed thousands of criminals. One after another, Mexican governments deliver promises but do not change the system. Dark Suns is not only a respectful and sensitive dedication to all the dead and missing souls but also a scream for very much-needed help.