[New York Independent Film Festival] Documentaries: Mexicanos de Bronce (2016) - Reviewed

Mexicanos de Bronce screened at NYCIFF

The prison system has become one of the more widely covered topics in documentary film and television. From MSNBC’s Lockup series to Matthew Cooke’s Survivors Guide to Prison (2018), the inner workings of prisons seems to be a bottomless pit of subject matter. Director Julio Fernandez Talamantes’s breakout documentary film Mexicanos de Bronce takes a look at inmates in the Mexican prison system, their families, and the rehabilitative power of music.

Mexicanos has a promising beginning. Focusing on the musical aspirations of three inmates (Rocky, Hones and Bullet), serving time for violent crimes inside of the Mexico City prison system, Talamantes initially directs viewers towards the rehabilitation these men draw from being part of a hip-hop group called MPC Familia. Consisting of several other inmates, members of MPC spend their time in prison focused on creating and performing music, which they enthusiastically describe, through one-on-one interviews, as being key to their desired self-improvement.

However, as Mexicanos moves away from the daily musings of the inmates to their families, the film starts to feel somewhat unfocused. Not to say that the individual lives of these men are not important as to how their paths resulted in their current situation, I just found myself waiting for the film to connect more cohesively to the inmates’ musical aspirations. Instead, what I found was more of a patchwork of interviews with various family members, providing only general background to the lives of these three men. These stories weren’t void of compelling content; I just felt there was a connecting piece I was not getting.

The handheld cinematography and music blend well with the subject matter and definitely give the film a cohesive mood. The mix of ambient and hip-hop beats ominously anchors the film, helping to smooth over some of the wandering in the content. The lack of a narrator also enables Mexicanos to connect the audience more intimately with the emotional landscapes of these men, particularly Bullet, but this connection only serves to further my desire for the film to deliver more on the thesis established in the first act.

Mexicanos de Bronce overall is a documentary worth watching, especially if you are interested in seeing inside the prisons of Mexico City. I found myself internally asking questions like, “Why are they allowed to have access to sharp objects?” or “Mexican prisons allow you to have boom boxes and name brand clothes?” This forced me to confront my own assumptions about what prison life consists of. Unfortunately, I do not feel musical aspirations of Rocky, Hones and Bullet coupled with the stories of their families provided enough information to answer the film’s tagline question “¿Cuál es el origen de un criminal (What is the origin of a criminal?).” 

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-Dawn Stronski