[17 June 2013]
PopMatters Film and TV Editor
“The job of a sicario is to do away with the victim immediately, either with a bullet, a knife or a blow.” As he speaks, the hooded subject of El Sicario—Room 164 writes in a notebook, a numbered list of the weapons he names. “Quick and lean,” he continues, “So that the victim feels nothing more.” In answer to his own question, “How?”, he begins to draw a childlike outline of a car and to explain the difference between a professional sicario and an imitation sicario. Where the pretender fires dozens of bullets at a car—here he stabs at the page, bullet-dots all over the car he’s drawn—the real thing takes aim, needing only one shot to get the job done.
In Gianfranco Rosi’s chilling and mesmerizing documentary, EL Sicario—Room 164, now available be on DVD from Icarus Films, this former sicario wears a mask and has his voice modified, while he identifies himself as a worker, skilled and self-assured. Hailing from Ciudad Juárez, and now seated in a motel room on the border between Mexico and the US, he recalls his employment simultaneously by a drug cartel and the Chihuahua State Police. But as much as he goes over details and recalls crimes he committed, the film is much more focused on how he tells it and how you see it. In Juárez, it reveals in closing, more than 5,000 people have been killed since 2008. According to the sicario, their bodies are buried in safe houses, backyards and city buildings, places he can’t recall or never knew. He may be lying. And he may not.
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