“Sujo” review: Breaking free of the Mexican drug cartels

Reading Time: 2 minutes “Sujo” premiered at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival and won the award for World Cinema Dramatic Competition.

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Co-directors Astrid Rondero and Fernanda Valadez provide a probing exploration into the issue of the Mexican cartels with their movie “Sujo,” which follows the life of a Mexican boy named Sujo after his sicario father is killed. In order to protect Sujo from being taken by the cartel, who want to kill him to prevent him from one day seeking revenge, his aunt takes him into the mountains and raises him away from the city.

The film is a poignant look into the lives of people who exist under the constant influence of the cartels. As Sujo navigates his precarious position under the watchful eyes of the cartel, it seems inevitable that he will be propelled through the same cycles of violence as his father.

Although the premise may seem sensational, “Sujo” is less interested in the violence and more interested in the boy. Those going into this seeking an exciting action thriller about a boy getting revenge for his father’s death will be disappointed. Instead, this film is a careful character study that reveals insight into the struggle to escape poverty and overcome generational trauma.

After a screening of their film during the Sundance Film Festival, the directors hosted a Q&A discussion. They revealed that their purpose for making this film was “to tell the stories of young men overcoming…the drug wars in Mexico.”

Juan Jesús Varela, the actor who portrays the grown-up Sujo, perfectly captured the essence of Sujo’s struggle. Rondero and Valadez revealed that one way in which they were able to push Varela to embody the character and his experience was for Varela to go through something similar. Part of the filming takes place in Mexico City, and as well as being Sujo’s first time in the city, it was also Varela’s. Rondero and Valadez decided to provide little assistance to Varela while he navigated the city, so just like the character Varela plays, he too was all alone in an unfamiliar place, and that translated well into the film.

Education has a strong presence throughout. It is at the National Autonomous University of Mexico where Sujo begins to change his life and where he finds help to overcome his situation. Rondero explained, “One of the biggest answers to this violent situation that we are living is the university.”

Although the film may feel sluggish in places, it is a deep look into the lives of people who would otherwise go unnoticed or overlooked. It carries at its core a powerful message about what it is like to break out of the violence perpetrated by the cartels. Even as Sujo makes strides to leave that life behind, it continues to pull him back. The ending of the film leaves many questions as to where this young boy’s life will lead.