Musicians brandishing bazookas on stage, cops masked like El Santo, a posh Sinaloa necropolis in which the tombs have bullet proof glass, mutilated corpses in the streets of Ciudad Juárez: Mexican photographer Shaul Schwarz’s “Narco Cultura” is the most scarific doc I’ve seen since “The Act of Killing.”
Detailing the craze on both sides of the border, for jaunty “narcocorridos” that celebrate the outlaw killers of Mexico’s drug cartels (and are sometime commissioned by them), “Narco Cultura” is a study in collective reaction formation, with jaunty dance music, far more upbeat than gangsta rap, celebrating the hopeless escalating killing spree. One of Schwartz’s principals is a resigned Juárez police officer; another is a Los Angeles singer-songwriter who dreams of going down to Culiacán to soak up the cartel ambiance. That both are family men gives the movie a discomfiting symmetry.
Schwarz lets the people and his images speak for themselves. “Narco Cultura” is beautiful to look at—at once aestheticized and raw. The morgue shots and scenes of hysterical bereavement are pretty unflinching, the intimations of Chilean writer Roberto Bolaño’s posthumous novel “2666”, with its Santa Teresa (e.g. Juárez) of murdered women, are unavoidable, and, of course, the infectious music never lets up.