Richi Soto is a busy man. As a crime scene investigator in Juárez, Mexico — aka the murder capital of the world — how could he not be?
Consider the city’s four-year homicide statistics, as shared in the opening minutes of the documentary Narco Cultura: In 2007, “just” 320 murders were committed there. In 2008, 1,623; in 2009, 2,754; and in 2010, 3,622. For perspective, that last year, the city with which Juárez literally shares a border — El Paso, Texas — had five.
Clearly, Juárez serves as home base for a brutal war between drug cartels vying for control of an industry worth $40 billion annually. Two warring factions would be bad enough, but five major cartels are in play in this ongoing battle. The popular culture that this violence has wrought forms the subject of Shaul Schwarz’s debut feature, which begins an exclusive run Friday at Harkins Bricktown Cinemas 16, 150 E. Reno Ave. Happy holidays!
Actually, the beautifully photographed Narco Cultura fits right in with the spirit of the season: It will make you thankful for where you live. Even the worst part of Oklahoma City appears safer.
With a probing eye amid the danger, Schwarz examines the chaos through the perspective of two men. One is the aforementioned Soto, who sometimes conducts public forensics while wearing an identity-shielding mask. His tireless efforts seem futile given that an estimated 97 percent of the homicides go uninvestigated, and that the guilty parties almost never are nabbed.
The other focus is family man Edgar Quintero, who possesses tremendous vocal talent that he employs with the band BuKnas de Culiacán. Part of a burgeoning sound called “narcocorridos,” the group’s members play the part of hardened criminals, in both song and imagery. The American equivalent would be the gangsta rap of the ’90s, if BuKnas’ tunes didn’t sound exactly like those of the roving musicians who entertain diners at Chelino’s; only the braggart lyrics — about cooking meth, shooting enemies, etc. — differentiate the two styles.
Rather shrewdly, Schwarz juxtaposes BuKnas’ good-time concert antics with the aftermath of real-life killings that demonstrate the polar opposite: bullet-ridden bodies of the young and younger, splayed lifeless in blood-specked cars and on cracked ground. It’s a tough but important watch, absolutely sobering.
Yet schoolchildren look up to the “narco,” both real (cartels) and imagined (BuKnas); the AK-47s and beheadings and dismemberments have come to represent the norm, their way of daily life. Viewers are forgiven in advance for expecting to see one or both of the film’s subjects executed before the documentary is over.
Comments a Mexican journalist, “It’s a symptom of how defeated we are as a society.”
However sad her statement, there exists a sadder one: The situation will likely worsen.