Mexico’s drug wars captured in film comedy named Hell
Story of El Infierno follows cartel foot soldier capable of ‘insane levels of brutality’ and is tipped to be a box office hit
A black comedy taking Mexican cinema audiences on a rollercoaster ride through the horrors of the country’s drug wars is set to become one of the year’s big box office hits, even in areas worst affected by the violence.
El Infierno, or Hell, tells the story of a well-meaning middle-aged deported migrant called El Benny as he transforms into a drug cartel foot soldier capable of insane levels of brutality.
The film has been doing well in cities across the country for a month now, and was released in Ciudad Juárez this weekend. So far this year more than 2,400 people have been killed in drug war linked violence in and around the border city.
“The cinema was unusually busy and the audiences came out laughing and repeating scenes from the film,” Juárez usher Armando Martínez said in a phone interview. His own opinion? “It’s funny, but it’s hard too.”
The film’s director and co-writer, Luis Estrada, says his initial inspiration came from opening a newspaper one morning four years ago to read about a group of gunmen rolling five severed heads on to a nightclub dance floor along with a note about divine justice.
“It was something that screamed out that a line had been crossed,” he says, stressing that things have got much worse since then. “Dante Alighieri wrote about nine circles of hell. The question we are all asking now is which circle we have reached, and how much further have we got to go?”
Estrada describes his film as less about drug traffickers than the corruption, impunity, inequality, lack of opportunity and official hypocrisy he believes underlies the spiralling violence. It is deeply critical of the military offensive President Felipe Calderón launched against the cartels in December 2006.
“The important thing for me was to show some of the complexity of the phenomenon,” he says, including humanising the killers. “This is not a problem about good guys versus bad guys like the government says.”
In a recent radio interview Calderón insisted he had not seen the film, but made his displeasure at it obvious nonetheless. “What I ask is that we take more care of Mexico and the country’s name and image,” he said, “And that we avoid this kind of demolition of the national spirit.”
El Infierno’s success, seen by more than 1.5 million people so far despite an adult-only certificate and its 145-minute running time, surprised distributors Alfhaville. Along with the fact that it appears to hold as much appeal in the provinces as in the capital. “That’s something that normally only happens with blockbusters,” said company spokesman Alfonso López.
Last week the film performed best of all in a cinema in Culiacán, capital of the Pacific coast state of Sinaloa. The state is home to the country’s most famous trafficker, Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, and is another major front in the violence that has killed more than 28,000 people since the government offensive began.
Culiacán resident Jesús González, whose cousin was kidnapped and killed by gunmen, said he loved the film. “We identified with it,” he said. “You see, this is what we are living in Mexico today.”
But Estrada describes El Infierno as an allegorical satire, comedy, farce and tragedy all rolled into one. But it was never, he insists, intended to be taken as realism.
“A lot of people seem to think they are watching a documentary,” he says. “That’s why I’m particularly keen to find out how it’s viewed in the rest of the world where there isn’t so much noise from the reality.”
Estrada says US distribution is looking likely for 2011, along with a slot at the Sundance festival next January and a guaranteed place as the Mexican representative at the next Goya film awards in Spain. Aside from that, he says, hell will travel to where it’s invited.
Source: The Guardian
Entry filed under: INDUSTRY NEWS, LATIN AMERICAN FILM, MARKETING, MEXICAN CINEMA. Tags: Armando Martínez, cine latino, cine latinoamericano, Cine Mexicano, Ciudad Juárez, El Infierno, Latam film, latin american cinema, Luis Estrada.