Review: 'Narco Cultura' Depicts a Mexican Culture that Glorifies Murder, Decapitation and Crime

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by John Anderson
November 17, 2013 4:11 PM
1 Comment
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"Narco Cultura"

It’s hard to say what’s more disturbing about Shaul Schwarz’s excellent “Narco Cultura.” Is it the dead children, wailing mothers and bloody water running through the gutters of Juarez? Or the roomful of clueless idiots at Hollywood’s House of Blues, singing along to a Movimento Alterado chestbeater (“we’re bloodthirsty, crazy and we like to kill…”) about cutting people’s heads off? Those would be Mexican heads, by the way, not the ones partying along Sunset Boulevard.

A documentary about the U.S.-Mexican drug war – which has resulted in 60,000 people being murdered south of the border since 2006 – would be horrifying in any case. What Schwarz does in his film, which opens Friday, is take it all a step further, into a cultural swamp: He not only follows the near-hopeless battle against the meth-coke-and-pot cartels, but the musical culture that they’ve spawned, a genre that began with commissioned corridos written in praise of drug dealers and has now spawned an entire musical movement built around the glorification of murder, decapitation and crime.

As journalist Sandra Rodriguez points out, the people have no idea how deeply it all goes, and how it anesthetizes society to the murder of innocents and wholesale violence. But it is, she says, “a sign of how defeated we are.” Stockholm Syndrome on a national scale.

Schwarz creates, not that he needed to, a movingly artful film, which creates and juxtaposes its moods and imagery in a manner that seems to distill the sometimes awful content, i.e. the sight of a child’s corpse suddenly making all the rhetoric about crime fighting real, and the musicians heinous and the fans unspeakable (the music is all available at Walmart, not that THAT should be a surprise). Schwarz paints a mini-portrait of one singer (neither he nor his band are going to be named here) who was born in the United States and thus feels culturally deprived: He wants to go spend some time in Mexico so he can advance his career, pick up more slang, be more authentic. He’d seem disgusting, or at the least morally bankrupt, but it’s probably just stupidity.

You want to commend Schwarz on the access he got to the police, one of whom is the centerpiece of the film (we’re not naming him either, though Schwarz does) as well as the startling footage of criminals at work. But of course why should they worry? No one’s going to catch them anyway.

What Schwarz does in “Narco Cultura,” tracing the cultural cost of political criminality, has been attempted before: Eric Gandini’s “Videocracy” of 2009, for instance, examined how the long reign of Silvio Berlusconi had degraded the dignity of Italian culture. But Berlusconi wasn’t abetting wholesale murder, as far as we know. And it’s arguable that “narco cultura” – the movement, not the movie – really is. Schwarz shows considerable cojones having made his film, but it’s understandable why he doesn’t ask his subjects one of the more provocative questions raised by his film: Why they don’t play Movimento Alterado music at Mexican funerals?

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1 Comment

  • mass | November 17, 2013 7:30 PMReply

    Good luck to the director, cartel is crazy violent and kill people just for speaking out about them. They kill BLOGGERS who speak out against them, even if it's anonymously. Don't you love it how the "freedom fighting" USA will pay billions of dollars and kill Muslims half way around the world, but won't spend money on military action on a country that is in complete disarray and borders the USA in California, Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico?

    Go on liveleak and just type in Mexican cartel and you can see for yourself how disturbingly violent these people are.

    Oh, that's right though, the Federal Government is in bed with these savages. Look up the Sinaloa cartel and the Government. Just type in "Sinaloa cartel and USA federal Government" into Google and look at the results. Form your own opinion.

    Is it any coincidence that the USA federal government never prosecutes any bankers that have been caught illegally laundering drug money from cartels? Is it any coincidence that the Feds were caught red handed "accidentally" selling 2,000 guns to the cartel? (See:Fast and Furious ATF Scandal) ? Is it any coincidence that such a helpful drug like marijuana is STILL banned by the Feds despite the fact that legalizing it would not only mean less product for gang bangers and drug cartels to sell (meaning drug dealing is no longer profitable, meaning maybe they'll get a real job that doesn't involve killing people), but it would also means billions of dollars saved from arresting marijuana users and building new prisons. The federal government is the biggest drug cartel of them all, and no one cares.

    If you find the Mexican cartel violence disturbing, just remember who their primary customers are. They operate in the USA. It's been proven that they have operations in the north, not just over here in the border states, in fact they have more over there in the north. These guys abduct people from the States when they are young, and force them into the gang. (Proven that a Texas kid was abducted and turned into a hitman. He confessed and then was brutally killed just this year.)

    Like I said, good luck to this director. The worst has yet to come.

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