Saturday, August 22, 2009

Lourdes Portillo's documentary, Senorita Extraviada

I heard Lourdes Portillo speak about her experience making Senorita Extraviada long before I saw the documentary. What I remembered most clearly from her talk, was how she said that, even 10 years later, she still hadn't been able to shake the horror of Ciudad Juarez from her. At the time, I couldn't understand the weight of what she said, but after seeing her documentary, I did.

In Portillo's beautifully rendered documentary, the fear the reigns Ciudad Juarez came into my livingroom.

Ciudad Juarez lies just across the border from El Paso, Texas and is one of the many border cities that are filled with the desperation and waiting of people trying to cross north and people coming south where they can acquire all that is illicit. Yet Juarez has come to international attention for the hundreds of unsolved femicides. Women's bodies are found in the desert, mutilated, beaten, burned. Senorita Extraviada begins with the horrific narrative of a woman that was taken by a man out to the desert, yet wasn't killed. In the morning he let her go, saying, if he had been someone else, maybe she wouldn't be so lucky. Years later, her daughter's body was found in the desert.

To introduce us into the missing, Portillo films a search through the desert for bodies, describing how groups of people come out every day to search, and will find bodies in places they had searched the day before. She never shows anything graphic, but humanizes the murders by showing the clothes of the girls and repeating a scene of women painting a black cross on a pink background on a telephone pole. In interviews with family members, we see photos of the dead girls, yet someone its the ownerless clothes and crosses on telephone poles that make me feel the loss of the girls more.

Portillo does an excellent job of balancing out the documentary with a combination of interviews with politicians, police, victims and family members as well as including action scenes, such as the one when they're out searching the desert. Her voice overs give the story of her experience in Juarez, summing up how she has come to believe no one except for the families of victims.

She includes several narratives of people who seem to have come in contact with some of the murderers, and their stories only serve to instill more fear into the film.

A powerful documentary, it is now difficult to find, yet, as the murders continue, I wish that it were more well-known and more accessible, if only to raise awareness and spark some movement towards creating an environment in which women weren't hunted.

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