El infierno/El Narco

Media Type: Film

Year: 2010

Who wrote / made it : Luis Estrada

Plot summary: Since the notorious temporary ban that was put on his 1999 film, La ley de Herodes/Herod’s Law, Luis Estrada has become well known in Mexico for making films that mix broad humour, graphic violence and political commentary. El infierno/El Narco follows in this established style.  The English title El Narco (the drug smuggler/dealer) gives an indication of the journey of the protagonist, Benny (Damián Alcázar), from recently repatriated immigrant to assassin and drug dealer. Whereas the Spanish title El infierno, which translates as hell in English, indicates Estrada’s assessment of northern Mexico, which is in a state of war between the army, police and drug gangs. In Estrada’s film, it is a Mexico in which few options are available. As one of the characters El Cochiloco (Joaquín Cosío) states, “si estoy en esto es que no hay otro” [I’m in this business because there are no other choices].

Benny returns home having spent 20 years away and not maintained contact with his family to a tiny frontier town in Northern Mexico, San Miguel Arcángel. His trajectory from wide-eyed innocent, who is so unable to protect himself that he is robbed on the bus journey home twice, to becoming a savage assassin is quite marked. He is shocked by what he finds at home: his brother, a notorious narco, who he had left a naïve boy, is now dead; the town is dominated by fear and death; and he has few options for employment. Forced into borrowing money from a local narco, he becomes one himself, gradually de-sensitizing himself to the torture and murders that he has to carry out.

The film makes frequent reference in dialogue to the Mexican commemorations of the centenary of the Revolution and the bicentenary of independence.  There are two key moments which underscore its significance.  first of these is in a pre-credit sequence where an official sign of the celebrations is shot through by bullets, and the second is in the denouement, which is a powerful sequence where Benny shoots at representatives of the Catholic church, the state, police, army and the lead narco in what must be read as a kind of fantasy projection of extreme destruction for the viewer, and a desperate, suicidal act by a man who has lost all hope.

El infierno/El Narco is archly critical of the status quo through vivid depictions of torture and murders and, although suffused with humour, it is a deeply pessimistic film.

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