Purgatorio: A Journey Into the Heart of the Border

There is a Spanish horror movie out this year called Purgatorio. Then there’s this documentary which has the full title of Purgatorio: A Journey into the Heart of the Border. But if  you, e.g., Google “Purgatorio”, you’ll see this movie marked as a horror/thriller/suspense film. It’s not. It’s a documentary. You can tell the difference, because this has the picture of the guy scaling he wall.

So, on the three-point documentary test, how does this fare?

Subject matter: Meh. The U.S. Mexican border is actually not inherently any more important or interesting than any other border, or your front door, or any other boundary between two things. There’s a certain interest created if there’s a contrast between the things the boundary is separating but the boundary itself, unless it’s, like, The Wall, has no inherent interest.

Treatment: Some good camerawork. Otherwise, the writing and topic development is about at the level of a 14-year-old girl. Utterly emotional transposition of near random imagery. Makes “Imagine” look like a detailed, well thought out blueprint for a highly advanced civilization.

Bias: Close to 100%. Only accidentally not 100%.

In Purgatorio, writer/director Rodrigo Reyes gives us 80 minutes of emotional outpourings centered around the U.S./Mexican border as if The Border were original sin. I’m not making this up. The movie begins with an actual (non-Christian, natch) Genesis story of how the great humans were until they discovered the concept of private property.

The movie ends with a big paean to how great it will be when everyone is dead. Preferably by a quick death, but whatever. Just so long as everyone ends up dead.

After the intro, a couple of fence jumpers are interviewed at the border. This looked potentially interesting. “Perhaps,” I thought, “we’ll follow these people as they cross the border.”

Hah. Fat chance. Instead we get a series of vignettes, starting with a disappointed monologue from the filmmaker that he could only find one victim on the border. (He calls this “a weird streak of luck”.) You kind of know you’re in trouble when the director laments not being able to show you enough corpses.

From there, we get vignettes: a drug addict, a cop funeral, testimony from a woman whose family beaten by friends of the dead cops, A guy bowling. A nuclear missile silo. A river canyon. (Rio Grande?) A halfway-house/shelter. An American who cleans up the litter and also obscures the coyote trails, making it harder for the illegals to cross. Kids reciting the names of (their favorite?) weapons. Dogs being euthanized. A staged shootout in Tombstone.

What’s it all mean? Well, the only thing I can figure is that Reyes means to indict The Border for all the ills in Mexico. As if the USA was a pool of awesomeness that only the US/Mexican border keeps from flowing south. As if we didn’t have police deaths, drug deaths, poverty, or euthanized dogs in America.

As if, also, this litany of the awfulness of Mexicans was a good argument for opening the border.

Seriously. In my heart, I’m an Open Borders Guy. But, good lord, open borders people make the worst arguments. In this situation, it’s not even an argument. It’s just a big, emotional demonization of the whole concept of borders, which (naturally) only concerns one border in the whole wide world.

Canadian/US border? Not evil. Or not worthy of mention. Mexican/Guatemalan border? Apparently also not a problem. Nope: The sum total of evil in the world stems from the US/Mexican border.

Now, narrowness of focus can be a good thing, and there’s nothing wrong with making a personal statement, but this whole treatment goes back to the 14-year-old girl thing. “OMG! This country…protects its borders…and people die of poverty!” There’s no depth. No understanding. In fact, not even an attempt to understand, just emotion.

The American who cleans up the litter gets to monologue a bit about how enforcing the border isn’t cruel, but it’s all ARF ARF ARF Ginger to Reyes, who engages with it not at all and gives it no weight. (Sort of like his treatment of the “Why not stay and make Mexico better?”)

There’s a scene in Michael Moore’s career-launching Roger and Me at the end where a woman is selling rabbits for “Pets or Meat”, and Moore films her killing, cleaning and skinning a rabbit. It’s a heavy-handed metaphor for…I dunno…corporations feasting on people or some damn thing.

It’s disgusting. There’s no point to it except to shock and disgust. But at least it’s for an artistic (if utterly propagandic) purpose.

Reyes shows dogs being injected with killing poisons. Films them dying. Films them freshly killed. Films being shoveled into an cremator of some kind. (I assume that’s what it is.)

It pissed me off. This facility kills 20,000 dogs a year, which is pretty horrifying. But millions of dogs are euthanized in America. What’s the purpose of showing it?

I guess this goes to the heart of this misanthropic diary entry. People are bad, everything’s bad, the only possible hope is letting everyone into America, which will never happen.

The music is awful, too. It’s primarily one note on a clarinet that’s delivered in increasing volume until it hurts your ears. You could blame the theater for being too loud, but there’s nothing else at this volume in the entire film.

Not really a movie. More an admonition against putting cameras in the hands of Highly Upset People.

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