Hoo boy. This is not a heavy movie in the sense of “you’ll feel affected while it’s on, but you’ll forget about it afterward”. No, this movie is a weight that I’ve been trying to ignore since seeing it, because to reckon with the stories presented is to be burdened with the fear of loss, the grief of the Mexican victims of disappeared citizens, and the knowledge of how deeply your soul breaks when you take a life.
DEVIL’S FREEDOM is a documentary about the decade long conflict in Mexico, specifically in the region surrounding Juarez. Interviewees include a daughter of a disappeared mother, a brother who found his missing siblings for his mother, two killers for the cartels, and a woman who lost her sons. All of the subjects of this film wear inverted luchador masks, stripping them of their identities.
Mundane shots of everyday Mexican life are lifted into the realm of the surreal as you notice that the entire population is masked. Everyone lives in fear of being seen. To be seen is to die in a war where no one can be trusted. Not the cops, not the dealers, not the vigilantes.
Nothing in this movie lets up. Not the images. Not the music. Definitely not the stories and emotions of the living victims of the Mexican theater of the American war on drugs. There is no levity to be found in the kafkaesque hell of an unending, unrelenting slaughter.
Ironically enough, this very accurate emotional depiction of the brutalization of human lives may be DEVIL’S FREEDOM’s core weakness. A dark photo with no light spots is a black page. It is through light that we illuminate the depths, and with only suffering and hatred for so much of its runtime, it’s hard to remember what it means to suffer.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m nitpicking. It’s an inventive and impressionistic use of the documentary format, it’s a gorgeous (if bleak) picture, and I felt the stories of everyone examined as though they were happening to me. But without a working knowledge of the drug war tearing Mexico apart from the inside going in, I was mostly lost.
Maybe I should be more politically aware of the world around me. What am I saying “maybe”—I need to be more politically aware. But isn’t that what I’m watching all these documentaries for? But what if they just want to communicate a feeling?
In this case, the feeling that DEVIL’S FREEDOM wishes to convey is more powerful for being conveyed once. My wish for more of it is selfish, I know. I also wish the world were a better place, selfishly. More fool me. THREE AND A HALF STARS