A jewel of observation, of cumulative detail and of finding splendid beauty in a terrible place, Natalia Almada’s “El Velador” (The Nightwatchman) is a daydream of an ornate cemetery’s reach and growth: a place for the fallen of the Mexican drug cartels whose product is sold illegally north of the border, a shimmering city-state. Silence is also Almada’s subject: the silence that comes after death. A nightwatchman. Two mascots, black dogs named EI Negro y La Negra. And palaces, kept shining, made grander, loomed with chandeliers, all to absence. Guns, blood, bodies: absent. Television and radio news reports: a daily body toll, no longer even audible as a mounting one. Near the end, a bulldozer furrows a new gash in the ground, another hole to be filled with gold and grout and crucifix-topped cairns that could house even the largest family. The rains come, heavy, cold. Hypnotic work. 72m. HDCAM video. (Ray Pride)
“El Velador” plays at Siskel Friday July 27 and Tuesday, July 31. A trailer is below.
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” in words and images will be published in Spring 2022.