El Velador: The Night Watchman

Directed by Natalia Almada

72 minutes / Color
English; Spanish / English subtitles
Release: 2011
Copyright: 2011

Available as part of the box set, Personal and Political: The Films of Natalia Almada.

EL VELADOR is a film about violence without violence.

Martin, the night watchman, arrives with the setting sun in his rumbling blue Chevrolet. The cemetery mascots, EI Negro y La Negra, chase his truck down the road and greet him with wagging tails. The sound of construction fades away as the daytime workers leave and Martin is left alone, looking out over the skyline of mausoleums where Mexico's most notorious drug lords lie at rest. Crosses and steel construction bars pierce the purple and pink sky. As night descends luxurious cars fill the dirt roads. Mercedes, a sexy young widow, arrives with her little girl in a pristine white Audi. A portrait of her husband, a corrupt policeman holding a machine gun, watches over them as they sweep and mop the shiny marble floors. The coconut vendor's radio blasts a gory list of the day's murders: "Culiacan has become a war zone." The buzz of cicadas fills the air with anticipation. Through Martin's vigilant eyes we watch time pass in this place where time stands still.

A portrait of the daily life of the cemetery allows us to see the intersection between those who make a living there and those who rest there—innocent or guilty. A construction worker hovers over the grave plastering the inside of the cupola while a young widow lights a candle to her recently killed husband.

Eventually mourning too becomes work as the widows return day after day to tend to their husbands mausoleums, a perversely gaudy reminder of the violence that is wounding Mexico, and of the socio-economic conditions in which this violence flourishes.

EL VELADOR lingers at the threshold of violence. By refusing to show the graphic images that the press feverishly disseminates Almada asks us to dwell in the moment when violence has just left its mark and when violence is imminent. Her camera enters into the intimate and ordinary routines of this world with patience, restraint and tenderness.

"The Mexican drug cartels have inspired countless films, but never one as final as Natalia Almada's documentary EL VELADOR. After this experience, everything else seems trivial." —Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun Times

"EL VELADOR is an unsettlingly quiet, even lyrical film about a world made and unmade by violence." —A. O. Scott, The New York Times

"Mesmerizing!" —Time Out

"An exquisite study of a rapidly expanding cemetery." —Variety

"[An] hypnotically detailed feature documentary depiction of life and death." —The Wall Street Journal

"Deceptively peaceful... feels at first as if you're eavesdropping on someone else's daydream." —Slant Magazine

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Select Accolades

  • 2011 Cannes Film Festival
  • 2011 New Directors/New Films
  • 2011 Los Angeles Film Festival
  • 2011 FID Marseille Film Festival
  • 2011 Vancouver International Film Festival
  • 2011 Jihlava International Documentary Festival
  • 2011 International Documentary Festival Amsterdam (IDFA)
  • 2012 Open City London Film Festival
  • 2012 Ambulante Film Festival
  • 2013 Tucson Cine Mexico Film Festival


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