By Jeffrey Sipe and Nina Rodriguez
Producer/director Helmut Dosantos’ feature debut, “Gods of Mexico” (Dioses de Mexico), is a poetic documentation of the great variety of indigenous and afro-descendant groups around Mexico who lead arduous lives in numerous environments, the commonality being their distance from a modernity that is still, however precariously, at bay.
Like many other filmmakers in Mexico today, Dosantos has already dealt with the struggle for indigenous groups in Mexico to retain their cultural heritage, most notably as producer of “Noche de Fuego” (Prayers for the Stolen), in which a small village finds itself forced to work for the cartels while fending off the police as well. That film was Mexico’s entry for Best Foreign Language Picture last year. “Gods of Mexico” was honored for its artistic vision at DocAviv Film Festival in Israel and the Tacoma Film Festival in the U.S.
Although “Gods of Mexico” is labeled a documentary and it does indeed document aspects of the lives of its subjects, every scene in the film was planned and scripted. The cinematography is strikingly beautiful throughout with every shot meticulously planned just as every scene was scripted. The cinematography carries the weight of the narrative as everything in the film is related to the audience visually. There is no dialogue and only two discernible words are spoken in the entire film. The film does suffer slightly from that as the audience is left in the dark regarding where these people are and, with few exceptions, how they might live away from the salt pans or outside the mines. At the same time, it adds a basic element of common cause to all the groups in the film regardless of their location or ethnicity and it is made clear that subcultures around Mexico are all facing the same forces.
The various vignettes that make up “Gods of Mexico” are not narratives in the traditional sense. There are no real characters to follow. Instead, we focus on the conditions of work that the film’s subjects, mostly male, are forced to engage in. And those conditions, though perhaps culturally soothing for their familiarity, are pretty harsh. There is only one sign of technology at any of the worksites and that happens to be a small recorder that plays music as one of the workmen dances for his friends. Nothing else depicted in the film involves anything except manual labor including in the underground mines. It is one of the first things a viewer will note.
This is not an unusual subject to be tackled by Mexican filmmakers. In fact, it is a fairly common theme. But it is expressed particularly eloquently in “Gods of Mexico” where the visuals shift from rich, dark colors to sequences shot in black and white, and some sequences in the film are essentially moving picture portraits of the characters. Since there is no conventional story, it is up to the visuals to engage audiences, and that certainly happens.
“Gods of Mexico” comes to the screen as a response to a country that continues to struggle to implement economic development—an admirable goal but one laden with drawbacks for the isolated, centuries-old cultures that pepper all of Mexico. Mexico’s independent film industry has sounded the alarm repeatedly. But the question remains: is anybody listening?Part of the Cinetecas’ latest Muestra after having premiered at festivals like True/False and FICUNAM, “Gods of México” is currently reaching Mexican theaters and screening at Compartimento Cinematografico in San Miguel de Allende starting February 1.