REVIEW: Kingdom of Shadows

10 04 2015

11012683_798279373587135_1037190080728306339_nFull Frame Documentary Film Festival

The drug violence that has ushered in a reign of terror along the border, as well as deep within the social fabric of Mexico, finally gets the profile it deserves in Bernardo Ruiz’s documentary “Kingdom of Shadows.” 23,000 innocent people have disappeared in Mexico since 2007, and that is just the official number – most estimate it is even higher. One of Ruiz’s subjects, Oscar Hagelsieb, states that he felt safer in the Middle East than he does in Monterrey, Mexico, a claim that seems entirely justified given what we see in the film.

What is not justified, however, is the senseless violence that gets perpetuated by a corrupt government and police force. Anyone with power in Mexico inevitably gets corrupted, and the supposed step forward by introducing a “Civil Force” of police in the country only resulted in the indiscriminate arrests of the youth. Civilians are more at risk than ever, and there seems to be no end to the madness.

Things are getting worse because both Mexican and American officials are devoted to treating the symptoms rather than the disease causing them. Drugs keep coming across the border because people in America are all too willing to consume them, and our justice system concerns itself more with locking up low-level dealers than the kingpins distributing the drugs or the people abusing the substances.

Ruiz briefly touches on the mandatory minimum sentences that are forced on petty offenders with small amounts of marijuana; perhaps the topic could have used a little more attention in the film. But he uses “Kingdom of Shadows” to explore subjects and stories with more visceral impact, like the families who lose a child and the valiant efforts of Sister Consuela Morales to bring perpetrators to justice. Ruiz also shows gruesome images from “narco kitchens” where the cartels attempt to disintegrate the bodies of the people they kill. One member confesses, hauntingly, that he cannot eat cooked chicken anymore because it smells just like human flesh.

Still, nothing lands with a more searing impact than Ruiz’s final montage in “Kingdom of Shadows.” The camera, fixated tightly and closely on the faces of those innocent Mexicans who are still missing a child, pleads for some dignity and fairness. Their eyes cry out for the humanity in all of us – a humanity starkly absent from the region today, it seems.

Judging from the stunned silence – I could hear every movement, discern every touch of fabric – everyone who sees “Kingdom of Shadows” ought to feel a deep duty to bring that much-deserved justice to them. Now the job is to get as many people as possible to see this documentary.  B+3stars

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