Sundance 2020 – Vivos

On September 26th, 2014, 43 male students from the Ayotzinapa school disappeared on a road in Aguala, Mexico after being taken away by police. They were never seen again, and there are still no definitive answers from the Mexican government about what happened that night and where these students went. Uncertainty is now all the families of the disappeared are met with, more than 5 years later. Human rights activist and filmmaker Ai Weiwei (the impressive Human Flow) crafts a film that only he could, one of profound empathy. 

Weiwei has a documentarian’s gift that I’ve only seen in Werner Herzog previously, in that he is able to connect with people and allow them to open up in ways other filmmakers simply cannot. He is able to film them simply existing from a distance seemingly undisturbed by the camera, while also hearing their testimonies in a deeply personal way. We are witness to their most personal thoughts in their now seemingly endless battle with uncertainty and a government that is not accountable to them. There is an ethereal quality to many of Weiwei’s images, one feels a spirituality to them that again, only Herzog has previously captured in documentaries.

Weiwei expands the narrative to discuss the war on drugs, the complicity of the United States, and the unavoidable fact that governments lie to their people all over the world. Vivos could have been crushed under the weight, but never is do to how astutely and spiritually Weiwei makes his points. They are never out of place and he never loses sight of where this story is centered upon. It could have been such a distracting mess, but it all fits in a thematic harmony only he could conjure. I wish I had more to say about this film, because it is a beautiful one. Hope is all we have against oblivion.

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