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Non-Review Review: Blood Rising

This film was seen as part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival 2013. It was the closing gala.

It is sometimes quite tough to review documentaries. It’s tempting to confuse a worthy cause with a worthy film. Blood Rising is certainly about a worthy cause. It explores the “femicides” that have been occuring in Juárez, Mexico since the nineties (if not earlier). Women are kidnapped, raped and murdered – and the local authorities have done next-to-nothing to help stem the tide of abuse. Those who dare speak up have been hounded out of the area, with some advocates even continuing the cause “in exile.” It is a very compelling and a very worthy cause, and one that deserves as much attention as it can garner.

However, even factoring in the very worthy cause and the fact that its heart is in the right place, Blood Rising feels like a rather ill-judged piece of cinema.

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Brian Maguire is really the crux of the documentary’s problems. That’s not to criticise the fantastic work that Maguire does for the families of these lost women. An Irish artist who was moved after reading about these brutal murders, Maguire has volunteered to paint portraits of a selection of the victims in order to raise awareness of the murders. He has travelled over to Mexico to speak to the families, and to various officials, inquiring and investigating about these crimes.

Maguire is a fascinating subject. After all, this is a man who travelled half way around the world to do some good, to use his gifts to help in an area that perhaps isn’t his area of expertise. Maguire deserves a great deal of praise for his profile and his work, and it is quite heart-warming to see the artist give the families some measure of closure around their loss. His grief, anger and confusion is all palpable and genuine, and it might have been interesting to do a documentary focusing exclusively on Maguire’s relationship with Juárez.

Unfortunately, Blood Rising opts to broaden its horizons, but chooses Maguire to steer the show. Maguire is a charming conversationalist, but he’s not the kind of person you need driving a documentary. “This story isn’t about me,” he insists at the start, quite rightly. However, the documentary focuses on him, and – at the very least – it is about his investigation into Juárez. For all Maguire is an interesting man, he is a dire interviewer. It is a little awkward watching him trying to question and inquire after the locals.

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Understandably, Maguire wants the people talking to know that he’s there. He holds conversations with them, even when they are speaking in Spanish. He’ll share his views and opinions, meaning that every snippet is as much steered by Maguire as by the subject. He stutters a bit, he occasionally trips over his words. Through no conscious fault of his own, his overwhelming presence seems to focus the documentary around him – whether he wants it to be or not, the story becomes about him as much as anybody else. His reactions are woven into the fabric of the documentary, his opinions are given as facts.

This isn’t necessarily a problem, but it seems like director Mark McLoughlin can’t reign in Maguire’s influence. As a result, the documentary begins to reflect Maguire’s style of conversation. It is unfocused, it is all over the place. It goes off on tangents. These would be redeeming quirks in a lighter documentary. However, it feels a little out of place here, in a movie about exposing the Mexican state’s systemic corruption and culpability in the brutal murders of countless women.

Blood Rising would work a lot better if Mark McLoughlin or Brian Maguire clasped the reigns just a bit tighter. If the information was structured and laid out in a manner easy to digest, instead of being scattered across the film. Maguire seems to mention and allude to things that aren’t fully developed, vital pieces of this haunting and macabre puzzle that might provider some vital insight.

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“That’s another story,” he remarks after briefly mentioning Juárez’s history as an industrial town created without unionised workers. He then shrewdly suggests this might be a vital piece of information in understanding the community, but it’s never developed. He also mentions that the Court of Human Rights has condemned Mexico’s handling of the inquiries. A bit more depth on that topic would have been welcome, particularly in his exploration of endemic corruption and international opinion.

You could argue that the lack of structure is part of what is appealing about Blood Rising. Indeed, the entire documentary does feel very earnest and heart-felt. This isn’t just about conveying facts and statistics, it’s about the very visceral response to these acts of brutality. However, the story needs to be told, and it is better told clearly and efficiently. A lot of Blood Rising is harrowing, but it also feels a tad bloated. We hear a lot about individual cases, but we hear very little about how they all tie together. We get a brief history of cartel culture and the government’s stance on these crimes, but nothing about how these stand at the moment. All the modern details are kept vague and ambiguous.

It’s important to separate the merits of a documentary’s subject from the merits of the documentary itself. Blood Rising has a very worthy subject. Unfortunately, the film itself is not quite up to the task of doing it justice.

I don’t normally rate films, but the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival asks the audience to rank a film from 1 (worst) to 4 (best). In the interest of full and frank disclosure, I ranked this film: 2

3 Responses

  1. Darren,
    Thank you for your candid review. I wanted to get to the film and didn’t so it is good to read your thoughts. I completely agree with your take on how a project around Brian Maguire can take the direction it took. I remind myself that we wouldn’t even get near this stuff without his courage and determination. I didn’t see the film AND am aware of how Maguire can raise awareness so from me he gets a 4 for his work.
    In an odd way, I am glad that he didn’t make a top class film, he does a top class job !!

    Johnny in Tyrone

    • Thanks Johnny, and very fair point. I don’t want to seem overly critical of Maguire, because he’s doing some phenomenal work over there for a great cause that really deserves more attention than it is getting. There’s no doubting his goodwill and his intentions. And, to be fair – I’m not sure I articulate this well above – but it’s clear Maguire understands everything over there, from the way that he makes off-hand references to various background factors and how deeply engrained he is. I think the movie’s problem is just that he’s not best suited to structuring the transfer of that information.

      • He might do another one. Do you remembere film styles before Ken Loach and Tarantino?
        Maguire and McLoughlin could be nextcould be next !!

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