Displaying some great reserved storytelling, Sujo follows the life of a four year old boy named Sujo (Kevin Aguilar) whose cartel gunman father, is killed. Taken in by his Aunt Nemesia (Yadira Pérez) he grows up alongside his cousins Jeremy (Jairo Hernandez) and Jai (Alexis Varela) all the while trying to avoid following his father's cartel laden footsteps.
For a movie that's focal point is cartel violence, Sujo presents a much more relaxed and non-violent view. Instead of showcasing the violence itself, it relies on the story of Sujo's life as a way to show the aftermath of such violence. I appreciated it subverting the cartel centered film by limiting its violence, not feeding into generic action, and instead focusing on the humanity behind an orphan growing up surrounded by it.
The first half of the film involves a four year old Sujo not quite grappling with the fact that his father is gone, and the very cartel that killed his father looking for him. Whereas this could be much more of a compelling part of the story, Sujo veers into the abstract just a little too hard. Strange dream sequences and conceptual visuals provide little direction for where Sujo is headed. I'd much more prefer to see more of his interactions with Nemesia, his new mother figure. Or see more of him being a kid with his cousins Jai and Jeremy. If we're meaning to watch Sujo grow and adapt in this world of violence I would've appreciated more of the concrete scenes of it.
That being said, I think the technical savvy direction of Astrid Rondero and Fernando Valadez along with cinematographer Ximena Amann's strong camera work, provides some beautiful visuals. Eery dream-like fog, or unusual camera angles give the film a really nice flair that props up some of the lacking storytelling in this first part. I loved the reoccurring motif of a camera angle as if we're in the back seat of a car during a scene where Sujo's father carries out a hit, and later in Sujo's life when he completes a drug deal with Jai. The audience feels helplessly brought along for these dangerous activities much like a young Sujo, or Jai's younger brother Jeremy. Danger and violence are in the road ahead of us, and Sujo, and there's nothing we can do about. We're simply stuck in the car for the ride.
Sujo really soars in the latter half, as an older Sujo is told by Nemesia to escape the violence of his hometown and head to Mexico City. There he gets a job, a place to live, and his curiosity towards the local school grows. Visiting this school frequently enough to befriend a professor named Susan (Sandra Lorenzano). This is where we see real growth in Sujo's character, and where you become more than attached to him. His quiet charisma and charm have you pulling for him to do the right thing every time danger rears its ugly head. Befriending Susan also allows him to carry out his desire back when he was four of going back to school, something he wasn't able to do because of the threat of cartel violence.
Sujo is trying to keep his head down and avoid going down the same path as his father. He's much more sensitive and cerebral, wanting to get a degree in literature. Absent of any abstract moments, this part of the film is a straight forward coming of age story and instead of being predictable or contrived, it was actually enjoyable.
In the end I appreciated what Sujo was trying to accomplish. Identifying various parts of the film by the names of people that were currently influencing Sujo was a nice bit of narrative. But in the end, Sujo was trying to go above and beyond when all it needed was to stay in stride and tell the wonderful story it was trying to. The cinematography can stay, but the out of place conceptual bits were distracting.
Even though I wasn't a fan of those foggy dream sequences I did really like the cinematography from Amann. It was experimental in a way, yet not outlandish enough where you question everything you're looking at. With lots of fog and dark light situations I figured a hazy IPA could help provide a little more cloud. The False Prophet Hazy IPA from RoHa Brewing Project is a New England style hazy that right down the middle. In terms of taste, look and aroma its as satisfying as any other hazy you'll have. You can tell I'm being bipartial because its even brewed with my weakness, Simcoe hops. Mellow and laid back on all fronts, the beer drinks easy, tastes good, and checks all the boxes you could want. A pretty solid winning formula if you ask me.