Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
Narco Cultura: Violent Accordion Music
makes gangster rap sound polite and progressive. Narcocorrido is a virulent cousin of cajunto,
lionizing the drug traffickers and assassins terrorizing Mexico. Banned in their home country, narcocorridos
are largely based in American border cities and do a brisk business through legitimate
American retailers. (Indeed, Sam Walton would not be happy to hear what his
stores now carry.) Shaul Schwartz observes the state of underground
narcocorrido culture and the violence it celebrates in Narco Cultura (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.
in Los Angeles, Edgar Quintero fetishizes narcoterrorism on stage as the front
man of up-and-coming narcocorrido band BuKnas de Culiacan. Riccardo Soto sees the fruits of narcocorrido
culture every night as a crime scene investigator. On the plus side, Soto’s skills are in high
demand. Unfortunately, he and his
colleagues must wear balaclavas to protect their identity when responding to a
call. For obvious reasons, the dedicated
family had tendered his resignation, but his sense of duty compelled him to
return six months later.
entirely observational in his approach, Schwartz never asks Soto for a review
of Quintero’s latest CD. Nor does he
confront Quintero with crime scene photos of the latest innocent bystanders cut
down by his idols. Presumably, Schwartz
was concerned about preserving his subjects’ trust and access, as well as
maintaining a consistent tone. However, this
obvious avenue of inquiry forgone casts a long, distracting shadow over the
one point, Schwartz revisits the blinged-out cemeteries previously seen in
Natalia Almada’s El Velador, but Cultura has considerably more
get-up-and-go than its defiantly oblique predecessor. Things definitely happen in Schwartz’s film,
but it is dominated by the bloody aftermaths of the cartels’ ruthless business
rather than action per se.
picture that emerges of a Mexico plagued by bloodshed and corruption is not
pretty. Frankly, it would have been an
important wake-up call, but it may have come too late. Watching the reckless aggression of the
narcos, clearly abetted by crooked government officials, it appears Mexico is
teetering on the brink of becoming a failed state. Schwartz never bothers to seek any elusive
solutions. Who knows, maybe France can
re-install the heir of Emperor Maximilian.
Cultura is fully stocked
with dramatic images, many of which approach the threshold of outright
shocking. Yet, the film is essentially a
cinematic shrug, taking it all in, but never delving to deeply into the
dysfunctional pop culture it documents. Far
superior to El Velador, but not
nearly as emotionally engaging as Bernardo Ruiz’s Reportero, Narco Cultura is
still eye opening stuff, recommended for Lou Dobbs watchers when it opens this
Friday (11/22) in New York at the AMC Empire.
Labels: Documentary, Mexican drug cartels