“HELI”— The Relentless and Senseless Violence of the Mexican Drug War


The Relentless and Senseless Violence of the Mexican Drug War

Amos Lassen

Heli must try and protect his young family when his 12-year-old sister involves them in the brutal drug world of Mexico. Heli (Armando Espitia) works the night shift at the same auto plant as his father. His life is one of routine until his 12-year-old sister, Estela (Andrea Vergara) finds excitement in her relationship with the older Beto (Juan Eduardo Palacios), who is going through a brutal training program to join the corrupt federal police force. Estela agrees to marry Beto and run off with him once he sells two packages of cocaine that he stole from his police superiors. However, when the officers notice the theft, they kidnap Beto, Estela, and also Heli, who had disposed of the drugs after discovering Beto and Estela’s plan.

While the film contains brutal acts of violence, there real theme here is about being a witness and thus we see the characters as onlookers. We see that the police force corrupt and engages in needless and meaningless torture. Director Amat Escalante emphasizes that that Mexicans we see have stopped being witnesses who fight the injustices around them and instead become mindless spectators. He repeatedly uses discomfiting images to prove his thesis that the Mexican populace has been lulled into complacency by cartels and inept government agencies. At the same time, the bleak worldview seems to be a bit too forced to be emotionally convincing. Unfortunately, Escalante allows his cynicism to overcome his empathy. However, while this is distracting, it can be overlooked when we get to the end of the film.

Escalante won the best directing award at the Cannes Film Festival for his minimalistic style amidst controversy surrounding his film’s content. The title of the film is the name of a young man who is undeservingly caught up in the fallout from the theft of cocaine. For the length of the film, we watch him and his family struggle against misfortune that comes to them without reason or meaning.

We are taken deep into Mexico’s drug-fueled violence that has no end in sight. The film opens with a bound-and-gagged man having his face pressed into the bed of a pickup truck by an unseen assailant’s boot. When the truck pulls over, another body is unloaded, carried to the top of a freeway overpass and hung by the neck for all to see. We then go back in time to explain who these men are and how they got here.

“Heli” leaves little to the imagination with its barrage of carnage. There are several acts of animal cruelty as the film shows the chaos brought on by drugs. Even if you want to forget what you see here, it is almost impossible to do so.

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