*** (out of four)
Many music fans and writers trip over themselves trying to predict the industry's next big trend. Genres are invented. Hype emerges and disappears. But rarely does something as chilling come along as narco corridos, Mexican songs glamorizing drug cartels' ruthless violence that the killers play after executions. Director Shaul Schwarz's shocking and upsetting documentary "Narco Cultura" addresses this increasingly popular subculture, and it won't be easy to forget the image of a venue packed with concertgoers singing in unison, "We're bloodthirsty, crazy and we like to kill."
The film alternates between time with Edgar Quintero, a successful Los Angeles-based corrido singer who wants to gain more first-hand knowledge of the his material, and Richi Soto, a crime scene investigator in Juarez, Mexico. There, the movie demonstrates, the murder rate has skyrocketed (despite the safe, peaceful community in El Paso, Texas, just across the river) as powerful cartels fight for control of the border town. Decapitations and dismemberments are common. Investigations and punishments are minimal. The city seems run by its criminals, with the law looking the other way for its own safety and kids looking up to the dangerous, wealthy people who kill to succeed in a jobless, opportunity-free place.
Onscreen text at the end of "Narco Cultura" indicates Movimiento Alterado music has been banned on Mexican radio and TV. Schwarz should have spent time addressing the artists' reception and critics, not just indicating that an initially hesitant Wal-Mart eventually ordered copies of an El Komander album in bulk. Can anyone with a decent voice become a star in this genre, since the lyrics appear to be written almost in minutes? How are parents addressing their kids' admiration of lawless murderers? This doc also misses a chance to unpack how slow changes in some American drug policy have affected the operations of Mexican suppliers, or how many people leave Juarez -- a place some have called the world's murder capital.
"My dream is that there would be no more murders here," says a child whose only crime is growing up in an unsafe place. It goes without saying that far too many Chicagoans know what that's like.
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