“Draw a line on a piece of paper and it’s just a line,” says the dulcet-toned narrator of Rodrigo Reyes’s poetic, haunting documentary, Purgatorio. “But draw a line in the sand and it will provoke intense and passionate struggles.”
The line in question is the U.S./Mexico border, and Reyes brings a smart visual artist’s compositional eye to capturing the people and environment on the Mexican side of the divide. He captures breathtaking images: a late-night revival meeting in a massive coliseum, with hundreds of thousands of lit candles against the darkness; an endless block of deserted, gutted homes in a desolate neighborhood; the slo-mo death of a stray dog.
These he puts in the service of searing words — both his own scripted philosophical prose and the rants, homilies, and testimonials of everyday people. The Mexico he reveals is one of searing poverty and out-of-control violence, but there is also great geographical beauty and flashes of deep compassion within human exchanges. As the fast-moving but meaty film builds toward its conclusion, Reyes masterfully and subtly shifts his metaphorical lens from the local to the global.
While the reportage stays rooted in the specifics of his home country, he offers a prophecy for the world that is chilling — and utterly believable.