Reel Reviews | Sujo (Sundance ’24)

By Charles Kirkland Jr.

When a cartel gunman is killed, the search begins for his son.  Will Sujo survive or will he succumb to the lifestyle of his father in, Sujo?

When Josue the Eighth murders the son of the cartel for which he works, the cartel leader promises retribution. Before he orders Josue killed, he promises to kill Josue’s four-year-old son, Sujo, as well.  After an extensive search for the boy is conducted, Sujo is found in the care of his aunt Nemesia, a woman who has a certain connection to the land.  Nemesia begs for the boy’s life and swears that he will be raised in the countryside, far away from the eyes of those in the cartel.   The cartel leader relents and allows Nemesia to raise the boy.  However, when the boy becomes a teenager, he fails to obey the pleadings of his aunt, goes back into the city, and gets involved in the actions of the cartel most dangerously.

Sujo is written and directed by Astrid Rondero and Fernanda Valadez, the same duo responsible for Sundance darling, Identifying Features in 2020.  The film stars Juan Jesús Varela as Sujo, Yadira Pérez as Nemesia, Karla Garrido, Jairo Hernandez, Sandra Lorenzano and Alexis Varela. 

Sujo is a contemplative narrative drama.  Rondero and Valadez take their time developing the story, fleshing it out thoroughly.  The writer/directors painstakingly walk the audience through four chapters in the life of Sujo from age four to his late teenage years.  The miraculous thing about the movie is the complete unfolding of a story that seems completely familiar yet altogether different.

There are two problems with Sujo as it was presented at Sundance.  The first is a technical issue.  The second is an issue with the story.  The big technical issue with the film is the closed captioning.  The story of Sujo is very complicated and completely relatable in Spanish.  There were times in the film when the English translation was inaccurate or incomplete.  More than a couple of times in the movie, the feeling of missing something happened.  Many times it was because of a lack of proper and thorough translation.

The second issue with the movie is that the story is way too long.  The movie does present an unexpected story but it takes too much time getting to the conclusion that should have happened two chapters previously.  The movie plot contradicts itself.  As many people have watched many stories about Mexican cartels previously, the cartel in this film appears to suffer from a lack of organization that allows Sujo to move in and out of the city without the result of forewarned consequences.

Sujo has not yet been rated by the MPAA.  The movie does include scenes of smoking, drug and alcohol use, violence, and pervasive language.  It should not be seen by children under the age of 17.  The movie, while cinematic in its presentation, is a slow, depressing, and tiring exercise that is emotionless and directionless.

 Grade: C-