A Lesson in Violence: Alfredo Castruita’s ‘Potosí’
We know very little about the Potosí of Mexican director Alfredo Castruita’s imagination. The film’s synopsis describes it as a peripheral, semi-rural locale in Central or Latin America. A quick Google search however, reveals that it shares little in common with the bustling cities of the same name in Bolivia and Mexico. But while the director’s Potosí might be a geographical fabrication, a rudimentary knowledge of sociopolitical trends in the region (or the world for that matter) is enough to assure the viewer that the violence which stars in the film is far from a fictional state of affairs.
Castruita’s Potosí is infected with organised crime. Its symptoms—routine bouts of murder, robbery, kidnapping, blackmail and police brutality—have burdened the town’s residents with chronic victimhood, transforming their lives into a series of, at best, obstacles, and, at worst, tragedies. Separate, dismal narratives intersect to reveal the inevitability of the individual’s consumption by violence when it becomes entrenched as a sociopolitical norm, and the unavoidability of tragedy in a town that has accepted the behavioural tumor rotting it from the inside out as an inescapable part of everyday life.
Castruita’s film is stylistically minimalist, free of the enhancements often provided by a dramatic musical score, fanciful cinematography and abstract or overly poetic dialogue. It unfolds not as a work of art but as a social commentary presented through the vehicle of a staged performance, steering the viewer towards awareness rather than a mere visceral reaction—an awareness that sprouts from the realisation that what he or she is watching on screen is a shadow of something disturbingly real.
Masterfully yet subtly, Castruita highlights the way in which violence seeps through the public realm into the private spaces of the domestic sphere and the individual psyche. A public shootout between criminals and equally corrupt soldiers takes innocent bystanders as its primary victims. A husband shackled by insurmountable financial difficulties and burdened by a fear of the inevitable consequences his turn to crime will result in routinely abuses his wife. Having lost everything to the social ills that plague her home and society, this docile and kind character is driven to bloody her own hands. A brutal mob, high on secondhand violence and feverish with sadism succumbs to barbarity under the superficial guise of justice. An elderly man, after years as witness, retreats to the seclusion of an ostensibly untainted desert only to have the plague stumble upon his territory after years of false security.
Devoid of sociopolitical and historical context, the film denies the viewer the comfort that comes from attributing disturbing violence to a faraway location or event whose circumstances, background and culture differ from his or her own. In a terrifying present of ongoing global conflict, Castruita’s film is an important and much-needed meditation on the consequences of allowing violence to become an ordinary part of the fabric of daily life and its dangerous ability to encroach upon and possess even the most noble and moral of characters.