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Movie review: ‘Narco Cultura’

Narco Cultura

Director: Shaul Schwarz

Cast: Richi Soto, Edgar Quintero

Rated: R (grisly graphic images of disturbing violent content, drug material, strong language, brief nudity)

Running time: 103 min.

Posted 5:12pm on Thursday, Dec. 05, 2013

Narco Cultura may be the year’s most disturbing documentary. Directed by former war photographer Shaul Schwarz, it’s a chillingly personal, poignant and often graphic look at how the Mexican drug war is warping an entire culture on both sides of the border.

While the statistics are horrific — the city of Juarez had 320 murders in 2007 and three years later that number had exploded to 3,622 — Schwarz doesn’t treat the topic as a news story but a people story. On the Juarez side, there’s Richi Soto, a crime-scene investigator who works for a department that’s understaffed and overworked and lives under the constant threat of assassination. During the filming, one of his fellow officers is slaughtered in front of his home and the head of the department, after receiving a warning he would be murdered at his home that night, quits and is never seen again.

Soto lives with his parents, rarely goes out except for work and dreams of moving to El Paso with his girlfriend for a quieter life. He says no one goes out anymore for fear of being swept up in the violence.

On the American side, there’s Edgar Quintero, a Los Angeles-based rising star in the world of “narcocorridos,” songs that blend lyrics celebrating the gun-slinging outlaw cartels with traditional northern Mexican rhythms. He too has a family, including a couple of kids, and just wants to make it in showbiz, like any young hopeful. Schwarz contrasts Quintero’s starry-eyed dreaming — playing for big crowds in L.A., audiences who want to be “narco for a night” shouting along with the lyrics — with the grim reality of Soto’s border life, where the air always reeks of death.

What’s most amazing is the access Schwarz gets and how open Soto and Quintero are about their lives, especially given the rough characters these guys come in contact with who may not appreciate the spotlight this shines on their subculture. When coupled with the often grisly photos and footage from actual cartel murder sites and the views of bystanders and families spiritually wounded from all the violence — a scene where the mother of a murdered man basically breaks down on camera is unforgettable — Narco Cultura puts a human face on the headlines.

In Spanish and English with English subtitles.

Exclusive: Cinema Latino de Fort Worth; Cinemark 17, Dallas; Cinemark West Plano

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