This new documentary blurs the lines on the map to make a point about borders

A scene from Purgatorio

Rodrigo Reyes’ Purgatorio: A Journey Into the Heart of the Border is not your typical documentary about the US-Mexico border.

It doesn’t have experts revealing shocking facts, or shaky footage of migrants running away from the U.S. border patrol. Instead, Reyes, the documentary's producer and director, takes viewers on a reflective — and frequently raw — journey through a surreal region that is full of contrasts.

In the opening scene, Reyes asks viewers to imagine what the world was like “when borders did not exist.” To help us blur this line between Mexico and the United States, Reyes doesn’t identify the names of the people he interviews or the places he visits. Throughout Purgatorio, we’re often left guessing which side of the border we’re looking at.

Other times, of course, the location is easier to decipher, like early in the film when we meet two migrants standing in front of the tall border fence on the Mexican side, right where they are planning to cross. Later, on the same side of the border, we hear from people who have lost family members to drug-related violence, and from a politician who is building a monument of a gigantic, metal X — about 100 meters tall — in the middle of the desert.

On the other side of the border, we meet a peculiar minuteman. Minutemen are typically armed citizens who claim to help the US border patrol by “monitoring” the border. But this minuteman is not armed; he picks up trash on the side of the road to erase markers that migrants use to find trails. In contrast, we see a religious man who leaves food and water for migrants in backpacks hanging from trees.

Reyes’ thoughtful narration pops up from time to time, guiding us through shots of beautiful landscapes juxtaposed with images of violence and decay. “I’m someone who left or someone who came in through a border,” Reyes explains. He moved from Mexico to the U.S. when he was 6 years old, and he says making Purgatorio has helped him come to terms with his own identity.

Reyes will be showing the film around the country in October. Visit his website to find a screening near you.

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