Injustice is still very much alive and seemingly thriving among the population of Mexico. The monsters live among the common people. No one is fully protected and safe.
Tatiana Huezo’s painfully beautiful documentary, Tempested, serves as a brutal example of what it means to be a victim in your own home country, to be a witness of suffering and deaths, to be helpless at the sight of injustice, to be unable to trust the world around you, as familiar as it might appear to be.
Miriam and Adele, the two protagonists of the documentary, bravely share their encounters with injustice – two women whose fates are not connected, yet appear to be bound by a great deal of similarities – both mothers, both having lost and suffered in life, both in possession of poetically gigantic courage.
The film starts with the story of Miriam, an ordinary woman with an ordinary life who came to work one day and had her life change dramatically. When she arrived at her airport job, she and her colleagues were asked to travel to Mexico City, a journey that seemed a little bit out of the ordinary, but nothing too uncommon. Once the plane landed, she was arrested with the charges of organized crime and human trafficking, a verdict that still echoes in her infested with violence mind, long after her release from prison.
In her words, in the prison where she was taken to, a self-governed prison owned by the cartel, no one is locked in, or forced to wear a uniform, police is nowhere to be found, and sometimes you would hear music and see people dancing. ”It’s not so different inside than outside”, she says, a place where fear has the ultimate power over its tortured and hopeless prisoners. But just when you start developing the notion of belonging, you witness someone being killed in front of your eyes, his body laid on top of a pile of dead men, and that shock shakes you to the core.
She describes the torture that was imposed on her upon her arrival and that the men who had her would ask for $5000 as the initial fee. Then, once that sum was delivered by her family, she would then have to pay $500 each week, much like a rent or a cost of living for her being alive, if not free.
When we are first introduced to Miriam’s narrative, we are aware that she’s a free woman now, but somehow, throughout the documentary, one cannot help but feel the invisible chains of guilt, or rather shame, that she still carries with her, no matter where she is.
Later on, the film connects Miriam’s story to that of Adela, a mother of three and a circus performer, who shares that the birth of her second child, Monica, marked a special moment in her life. A psychology student in her final year with no boyfriend in the picture, she was the kind of person to always surpass the expectations, much like Adela herself. The circus performer takes us around the exercises and performances of the children as she explains the routines of what it means to be part of a circus family. Then bitterly adds, ”She was only 20 years old when they took her.”
She explains that few days after her daughter was taken, the kidnappers called for a ransom and threatened that they’d send her in pieces if the family didn’t pay. They did pay, of course, and they even had federal agents stay with them for the following months, with the excuse of providing them with protection. Adela admits that the period of immobility and hiding felt more like living in a prison, trapped, isolated, helpless, rather than a protected space: ”We live(d) in hiding as if we were the criminals.”
Adela firmly believes that the authorities themselves had asked for the money, the people who have repeatedly lied, and had used the opportunity of staying with them to gather as much information as possible. She knows that the person who brought her daughter to the cartel was no other but a friend, and shyly admits that the same friend has attempted to threaten her and her family to stop searching for Monica or that there might be serious consequences.
Adela is not afraid though, the fear of the unknown and the fear of death have been replaced by the ever-growing numbness that has kept her from losing her sanity completely, together with the support of her circus family.
”The absence of a child drives you crazy, you want to know there’s a little light somewhere there…”, but after a while, even hoping becomes an act too difficult for the tortured soul. One naturally feels hopeless upon witnessing the injustice and pain caused to the innocent by those who vowed to protect them. One loses track of time, much like in a prison where you are trapped and lack the knowledge of either who put you there, or when are you getting out.
Tatiana Huezo’s work speaks to the audience on so many levels. She not only addresses the ‘new violence’ that seems to have entered the definition of normality within the daily life in Mexico, but also tries to eloquently convey the message that this absurd, and somewhat anarchist, injustice must come to an end.
These two women represent the falsely framed ‘criminals’ who have to pay for other people’s crimes in order to maintain the equally falsified notion of balance, since, after all, someone needs to be found guilty and punished.
Tempestad is a dark but much needed product of the reality we live in today. It’s a documentary that perfectly captures the fragility of the human body and the strength of the human spirit, unbreakable by horror, defeat and torture, ever-inspired by love.