Dark Suns: Sheffield Doc Fest Review
Julien Elie’s new feature, Dark Suns, focuses on the thousands of disappearances that have taken place in Mexico since the 1970s, their links to organised crime and the impact on those brave souls fighting against it.
Elie has sought as many stories as possible to fully get across the sheer scope of the problem. The film is divided into chapters, with each one offering us a variety of personal accounts and perspectives that cover several decades.
At two-and-a-half hours long, Dark Suns is epic in scale. Its chapters cover all areas of Mexico, and the stories build in scope as the film progresses. We begin by hearing stories of many unsolved cases of femicide and move on to learn of further incidences involving journalists, activists and many others who made too much noise about the scale of corruption at the heart of it all. The film becomes truly shocking once this is all uncovered.
It’s beautifully shot in black-and-white, bringing the various stories together neatly to create one bleak whole. It’s paced to perfection, and the score matches the tone superbly, riveting the viewer all the while keeping a clear level of uneasiness.
It’s the film’s subjects that engage throughout. Their tales are brutally honest and often difficult to hear, but it’s Elie’s collation of these stories into one complete piece that gives the film its impact. Hearing such a wide variety of accounts from across the country really gives the impression that this issue is not small-scale but, in actual fact, widespread.
Perhaps the saddest thing of all is the lack of hope or any kind of optimism presented by the film. So infested is Mexico with corruption and greed, that it is impossible to find a light at the end of the tunnel. This is simply the way things are and it appears to be something the country’s citizens have tacitly accepted.
This is in no way a criticism of the picture. If anything, it’s Elie’s clear intention. The stories told in his film cover an extensive history of injustice that appears now to be too far gone. His message isn’t one of hope, but rather one of awareness. He is simply bringing significant problems to the attention of greater society the only way he knows how and, upsetting as it may be, that’s important.
While the film is far from uplifting, the characters within are genuinely admirable. They show a great deal of strength in spite of their frustrating lack of progress and the constant hostility they’re faced with. They refuse to give up, sit still or lie down, and that, in spite of everything else, is hopeful.
Dark Suns is epic in scope and gorgeously put-together, telling upsetting yet necessary tales to shed some light on an important issue that merits further discussion. It’s a film that will linger long after it finishes, delivering its messaging assertively yet with subtlety, all the while remaining a truly terrific piece of cinema in its own right. This is imperative viewing.
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