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REVIEWS


DIRECTORS’ FORTNIGHT


US-Mex. 2011. 66mins Director/screenplay/ cinematography/ producer Natalia Almada Production companies Altamura Films, American Documentary/POV in association with Latino Public Broadcasting International sales Doc & Film International, www.docandfilm.com Associate producers Laurence Ansquer (Tita Productions), Charlotte Uzu (Les Films d’Ici) Editors Natalia Almada, Julien Devaux


The Night Watchman REVIEWED BY LISA NESSELSON


Despite its brief running time, enticing title and sociologically rich subject matter, The Night Watchman (El Velador) overstays its welcome. An assiduously contemplative portrait of a vast Mex- ican cemetery which is a popular final destination for drug king- pins whose reigns are up, this leisurely film from docu-maker Natalia Almada (The General, from Sundance 2009) is educa- tional and handsomely made, but not particularly compelling. Sort of told from the POV of dusk-to-dawn caretaker Martin,


the doc makes its ironic points early and, like the decaying bodies in their lavish mausoleums, has nowhere else to go. It takes a lot of live people to build monuments to the dead and keep them squeaky clean. Life goes on, etc. There is scant exposition besides the soundtrack’s intermit-


tent bursts of radio and TV reports of drug cartel damage. As the media dutifully enumerate fatal shoot-outs, severed heads, bod- ies found in trash bags or chopped into pieces — and impart the stunning statistic that there have been 21,915 apparently drug business-related casualties in the three years the current presi- dent has been in office — the camera watches with greater patience than most viewers will possess. The multi-storied above-ground tombs, some of which sport


spiral staircases, chandeliers and marble fixtures worthy of a top hotel, are startlingly interesting the first time around, but become routine to behold. Many of the dead are shockingly young — barely 20 in some cases. The world beyond the cemetery may be lawless and violent


but, except for the noise from graveside parties, Martin the custodian’s realm is pretty and calm. If you did not know this was a cemetery, certain stretches of it look like a residential com- munity whose thoroughfares are lined with peculiar homes that are influenced by Disneyland, Istanbul and Red Square. Wid- ows clean almost comically ostentatious mausoleums while children play and dogs give birth. Along with grave-digging and wreath-transporting, the con-


struction business is booming, and workers labour in the hot sun to keep up with demand for outsized final resting places built to stand the test of time. Meanwhile, Martin’s ramshackle shack looks as if a strong wind might demolish it. Life is cheap, but eternity can be expensive. The caretaker,


who makes do with a hovel while the deceased reside in palaces, waters the dirt in front of a ritzy mausoleum as clouds come and go, ever so gradually altering the light.


n 26 Screen International at the Cannes Film Festival May 14, 2011


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