Twenty years ago, subdued cries of young women, victims of a senseless misogynist frenzy, echoed in northern Mexico. Two thousand kilometers further south, under the volcanoes surrounding the capital, hundreds of others have been murdered in recent years. The silence of the authorities and the general situation of impunity encourages all kinds of abuses. Fear invades the countryside and the cities, the mountain trails and the highways. Migrants in search of a better life in the United States are kidnapped and enslaved, young students are seized and disappear forever, peasant leaders are found dead in the forest while journalists are executed in broad daylight. Infuriated, some relentlessly persist and expose the atrocities. More others, only with shovels in hands, confront ambushes, venture out in search of the bodies of their missing relatives. With their search and the evidence they bear, the truth will slowly emerge. Mexico looks like a mass graveyard.
Dark Suns is an overview of several regions of the country and gives voice to dozens of characters who watch almost helpless while their country is simply set on fire. They are journalists, relatives of disappeared persons, activists, lawyers or students, many of whom live in hiding, trying to evade threats against their lives. In Mexico, death lurks and fear is everywhere.
“This is a nightmare.”
This short phrase is uttered an hour and 35 minutes into the film. A phrase overused to the point of banality, said without emphasis, not awaiting any particular reaction. Yet, in this marathon of a film that captures each spark in a wildfire of suffering, filmmaker Julien Elie truly does bring us into a “nightmare”. Since the 1960s, a cycle of violence has been set off in Mexico that only grows stronger each year. From the repression of leftist groups to drug wars, and running through a rash of femicides, violence burns everywhere. Elie maps the scope of these uncontrollable flares of violence in time and in space. With all spheres of the state complicit (the justice, political and executive branches having been winnowed to the bone by corruption and murderous complicity), the flames of violence are fanned with impunity, leaving us at a loss to understand its inhumanity and the unmatched cruelty that it feeds. Women are killed and dismembered, because such a thing is possible. We leave behind the rationality of these crimes and enter into a parallel dimension where networks of killers can be led by soldiers, where women turn to the camera and share the moment when the remains—torso, bones, skull—of their children were found, and where governors have journalists killed while exerting total control over the investigations.
The situation in Mexico is complex and rooted in a unique history woven through with injustice, political repression, neoliberalism, machismo and poverty. It leads us to question the very nature of evil: without the threat of consequences, does humanity slide into barbarism? How can you break free from the cycle of violence when governments are complicit? What kind of “democracy” can benefit from such chaos? The only glimmer of hope that emerges are the women who, like the abuelas de la Plaza de Mayo, have nothing left to lose and for whom the drive for justice has filled them with incredible strength. In their expressions we see the humanity that evil has not been able to quell, and that this is the crack through which the light finally comes in.
From 2006 to December 2020, 80,517 people have been reported missing in Mexico. These figures represent only some of the desaparecidos…
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Julien Elie was born in the early 1970s in Montreal. After staying in Rwanda in 1997, he directed The One Who Knew Too Much, a film investigating political crimes in the region. At the end of the 90s, he maintained a correspondence with Farley C. Matchett, a man sentenced to death, and directed in 2002 The last meal, a plunge into the heart of Huntsville, Texas, capital of the death penalty in the United States. He then stayed in Mexico, where he directed Dark Suns (2018), an investigation into the countless murders and cases of disappearances in Mexico, from the late 1960s to today.