Morbido 2020 Review: SANCTORUM, Cosmic Forces Respond to Narco-Violence in Mexico
A little boy’s mother vanishes along with other fellow workers at a marijuana farm hidden in the mountains of rural Mexico. The farmers have grown weary of being caught in the middle of the crossfire between the drug cartels and local authorities. They say to themselves, we are farmers not criminals and the hills appear to be responding to their pleas. A strange howling can be heard through the clouds. Earth and sky also seem to be crying out at the injustice. There is no trust of either side, even the so-called authorities, so the farmers go into the forest to cut off the military. The child wanders into the forest to look for his missing mother. When man can no longer help how will earth and sky respond?
Joshua Gil's sophomore feature film, Sanctorum, was filmed mostly in the indigenous language of Mije with non-professional actors. There is a rawness and authenticity to the performances. It also adds to the near other worldliness to it, because it is a language which we rarely ever hear. Almost documentarion in its capture it makes their plight more believable. It's not quite as voyueristic as a Malick film can be, one would be remiss to not think of the famed director when watching this.
If you did not know going in Sanctorum that Gil had his Master’s degree in Cinematography you will by the time it is over. Golly does he shoot good film. Even at its most bleak it is so beautiful to look at, even when he tweaks a handful of images in post. The film was shot in the mountains of Oaxaca in southern Mexico. The etheral moments were shot at the Salar de Uyuni salt flats in Bolivia in South America. The rustic setting of rural Oaxaca grounds Gil's film is what should keep us grounded when watching his film, but even the Earth will speak when needed. Where he does any tinkering with his images is when he shoots the scenes on the flats.
While the violence is the catalyst it is not the focus of his film. We go into a film like Sanctorum with a presumtion we know enough, by way of popular media, about the violence. Gil doesn't want to dwell on it but takes us beyond the stereotypes related to this genre. When it happens, it happens out of sight or so far away from the camera. Perhaps this is why it is still so harrowing to not see it, or clearly make out what is happening. From the top of a quarry we see enough to know what is happening down at the bottom. From outside a home, on the veranda, we can hear what is happening inside the house.
The story of Sanctorm is simple and realistic, even for one that involves earthly and spiritual intercession against narco-violence in Mexico. Sanctorum is both a drama and a fantasy, one which treats the local beliefs with reverance but to outsiders we will look at it with wonder because their beliefe are a blend of the pagan and the biblical.
Sanctorum will appeal to the arthouse crowd looking for an alternative response to this everyday issue that impacts lives in Mexico. It will have appeal to fans of the aforementioned Terrance Malick who has often chosen poetry over exposition. It is a collection of raw performances, breathtaking vistas and provoking interpretations of the deadly drug trade. Perhaps it is a bit too cryptic for the layman but there is a rewarding experience here for those looking for a little bit of hope, even by way of spiritual intercessions.