El Velador

Martin, the night-watchman subject of El Velador

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Time Out says

Mon Jun 11 2012

His name is Martin, a solidly built man in his fifties who works the graveyard shift—literally—at the Jardines del Humaya cemetery in Mexico’s Sinaloa region. During the day, carnivalesque funerals are held for the area’s deceased drug lords and widows polish the gaudy, pimped-out mausoleums of their dead-thug loved ones. At night, Martin cleans up the empty beer cans and keeps watch. After a new day has brought more stories of cartel carnage and its collateral damage, he’ll return to his spot inside the gates once the sun goes down, patiently waiting for the dawn to come.

Filtering the fallout of Mexico’s drug wars through the eyes of one stoic security guard, documentarian Natalia Almada (El General) avoids the head-on journalistic approach and emerges with something far more impressive: a piece of lyrical, sideways social reportage that still connects an astounding number of dots. You don’t need income statistics to see the economic disparity between the men in the cracked-open shoes who make these pharaoh-appropriate shrines and those who rest eternally in them, nor do you need a pop-media montage to underline the way a TV anchor delivers “the most important news of the day”—banal complaints of bank fraud—before mentioning the 1,100 organized-crime-related deaths. Radio reports of new grisly fatalities and severed heads showing up at the grave sites of criminal bigwigs suggest an endless cycle, a point subtly hammered home in a pièce de résistance penultimate shot: Martin quietly hosing down the dirt in front of a gold-flecked tomb. Kingpins will keep filling these grounds. The rest will keep tending to their narco-naricissism in perpetuity.

Follow David Fear on Twitter: @davidlfear

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