By Ryan Matera
Bernardo Ruiz’s “Kingdom of Shadows” uses three different perspectives to approach the staggering drug trade issue in Mexico to create a high-quality film that builds a sense of solidarity between the viewer and the matter.
The film’s three-point approach makes it clear how largely this problem has permeated the culture of the area. Our main characters, although all largely involved in the matter, come from diverse walks of life and have all experienced this subject differently. One is an activist nun who devotes her life to the families of the disappeared, a mission which puts her own safety at stake. As Ruiz put it, “Sister Morales is really the heart of the film. She pushes the state government to actually do something and get some kind of justice. Consuelo’s story is the window into a very painful and difficult situation that Mexico is living through right now.”
Another is a U.S. farmer who spent years smuggling drugs over the border for several of the groups. The brutal honesty of this man is a true symbol of the lengths this problem has gone as he reminisces the days before Las Zetas, a powerful cartel, turned the drug trade into an industry of mass murder. The third figure we follow is a high-ranking Homeland Security officer based in El Paso who was raised in a town ravaged by the drug trade and has devoted his life to lessening the violence of the area. The officer, Oscar Hagelsieb, spent years working undercover with the gangs and putting his life in extreme danger for the sake of bringing peace.
This subject is one familiar to Ruiz, growing up with a Mexican father, as his films have always explored the often harrowing relationship between Mexico and the US.
“Everything I’ve worked on so far has had something to do with the relationship between the U.S. and Mexico,” he says. “I see “Kingdom of Shadows” as a continuation of the work I’ve done throughout my career.”
His last film, “Reportero”, tells the story of journalists who have risked their lives to expose corruption in the Mexican government in Tijuana despite the murders of their colleagues and threats on their own lives.
While “Kingdom of Shadows” jumps from protagonist to protagonist, the thread of gang violence fuses the different plots into one great theme: fighting a force which is too powerful to be defeated. These characters all know individually that their work won’t end the dangerous cartels; this determination is the spirit of the film. As the viewer watches civilians bravely speak and ex-criminals bring light on their actions they are filled with a hope that with enough solidarity and action this behemoth of a problem could be brought to justice.
The film opened on Nov. 20th and is now playing in select theaters.
Ryan is a Staff Writer. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.