The 61st BFI London Film Festival: Devil’s Freedom Review

What makes us humane? What are the characteristics that we value and aspire to, the qualities that make us human rather than brutish? These are the questions that one might ask oneself after watching Devil’s Freedom by Everardo González, a Mexican writer, cinematographer and filmmaker, known for his extraordinary documentaries, including Monsenor: The Last Journey of Oscar Romero (2011) and Old Thieves: The Legend of Artegio (2007). 

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Mexico has been crime-ridden for many years now, mostly due to the drug cartels, while at the same time, kidnapping, extortion racket and violent crime numbers have soared. Devil’s Freedom  takes on the very complex and distressing subject of the Mexican Drug War. The stories are told both by those affected by the violence and by those who inflicted pain upon their victims – throughout the documentary, the interviewees wear thick masks, with their identities unknown to the audience.

Everardo González asks bold and difficult questions to teenagers, adult women and men whose relatives were kidnapped and murdered, and to those who experienced the brutality themselves. The record of the events is painful to listen to; it’s difficult to comprehend that males as young as at 14 years of age, in all likelihood under the influence of drugs, would be able to murder a fellow human being. One of the killers was asked “What do you get by killing someone?”, and almost without a pause, he responds with “Power”. He narrates the sensation of killing an entire innocent family by the orders of the superiors of the cartel, like it was something very important to do. The murderers’ testimonies are specific and grim and leave the families of the victims to their despair, helplessness and anguish – who could they ask for help? There is no one; away in hiding, they can only deal with their problems and worries on their own. 

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Everardo González draws a chilling picture of the victims whose suffering immobilizes and deforms them emotionally. The unfathomable depth of the intimate narration is heart-rending on many levels. Gonzalez fearlessly exposes misery and death that are present in Mexican people’s lives. The culture of kidnappings, drugs and murders seems to be rooted within the community; therefore, it is difficult to tackle this issue or to find a solution to the aforementioned predicaments that have been consistently growing in numbers for the past three decades.

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All the testimonies take place in what seem to be common rooms, blurred in the background. The camera often focuses of the faces and eyes. The slow conversation between the film director and the interviewees is, from time to time, interrupted by silence, but sometimes silence says it all – the victims are in unspeakable pain and seem to be drowning in the violence of this ‘war’.

Can any of it be forgiven? Is there even a place for forgiveness? A young girl admits “I hate them (…), I would treat them the way they treated my mother (…), probably, they tortured her.” But even with all that pain, there is a victim who says that because of her belief in God, she can not allow herself to hate – is this what makes her humane? Is forgiveness stronger than hate? Everardo González’s documentary is a powerful and distressing portrait of those affected by the crimes and those affected by greed as they chase prestige or a better life – even at the price of becoming murderers. Can one understand the origin of this intricate issue? I am not sure… But one thing is sure: Devil’s Freedom is a documentary that should not be missed!

Rating: 3 stars

Written by Maggie Gogler

Edited by Sanja Struna

All photos © The Devil’s Freedom 


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