An appalling example of Mexico’s failure to address governmental corruption at even the most basic level, Tempestad (Storm) tells twin stories of heartbreak and unimaginable struggle against impossible circumstances. Looking as if stripped from the nightmare of a dystopian past, Tatiana Huezo’s documentary straggles across a decrepit country in the midst of a human rights catastrophe decades in the making. Controlled by a drug cartel far wealthier and better equipped than the flailing government, and under tremendous pressure from the United States to show progress related to its worldwide “War on Drugs,” Mexico is a nation in crisis that cannot hope to keep any of its citizens safe.
The faceless voice of “Miriam” speaks over images, with the gravity derived solely through the utterance of her words. Decaying facades, windowless frames and barren trees connect the audience to this woman’s story, but only tangentially so. The first narrator was arrested for crimes she did not commit, and for which the government openly acknowledged her innocence. Taken because “someone has to pay” for the crime of human trafficking, the former airport immigration official was rounded up and taken to a prison in northern Mexico. Fully aware that the facility in which she would spend her sentence was controlled by drug cartel, the police handed Miriam and many more unsuspecting citizens over to the gangsters who ran the prison. Adela, the second narrator, has two faces: one painted on while performing as a jolly and glamorous clown, and one without makeup that shows all of her grief. Living in hiding after her daughter was kidnapped by the sons of police and government officials, Adela and her traveling circus family must mourn the idea of losing the young girl, because the thought of her being alive, and in cartel hands, is infinitely worse.
Contemplative and dreamy images prove to be a melancholy compliment to the harrowing details of Miriam’s story, becoming the hallucinatory visual manifestations of her migration of freedom. Traveling by bus, Huezo records Miriam’s would-be journey through blank faces of fellow travelers, crumbling rest stops and the persistent thunderstorm that seems to follow her home. This style of ruminative recreation lends a sense of anonymity to the story. Because Huezo chooses to take the journey herself, and “creates,” in effect, nothing, she conveys the impression that Miriam’s words could apply to all of Mexico. The war fought between the government and the cartels has affected far more than the narrator — it has changed the lives of Mexicans.
The dualism present in Adela’s tale seems an apt allegory for the brave face that citizens living under these corrupt regimes must wear in order to survive. Unable to understand, from the most base of human levels, why these things are happening, the people of Mexico are trapped in a cycle of unimaginable violence and fear with no easy or quick way out. Adela’s methodical recounting of her family’s history in the circus and her heavily scheduled daily routine display a kind of occupied escapism. The harder she concentrates on work, the less she has to think about her pain. Emerging from the toil that accompanies traveling on such a large scale, Adela finds cheerful comfort in her co-workers and family, interrupting a circular bought of cry-laughter to tearfully thank these women for their constant support. Even in the face of so much pain and fear, hope exists amongst these friends.
Tatiana Huezo and cinematographer Ernesto Pardo have struck a balance between natural beauty and human squalor in a way that mirrors how Mexican citizens have had to live with the ever-present possibility of life-ending terror. A menacing film that builds like electricity in the sky and discharges with the quiet splendor of distant lightning, Tempestad ends with a silent bang — a single moment of cinematic elegance so profoundly beautiful, it is almost enough to erase all of the worry and anger associated with everything before.
Jordan Brooks (@viewtoaqueue) is an increasingly-snobby cinefile based out of London, England. As a contributor to several online publications, including his own blog, he has succeeded in fulfilling his life long dream of imposing strong opinions on others.