‘Gods of Mexico’ Review: A Portrait of Indigenous Residents

Onscreen, “Gods of Mexico” is subtitled “a portrait of a nation through its land and peoples,” although its human subjects rarely speak and aren’t identified by name until the end. The director, Helmut Dosantos, making his first feature, eschews context. This abstract-leaning nonfiction film, made from 2013 to 2022, consists of a series of vignettes and tableaus featuring Indigenous residents of Mexico. Chapters are labeled by geographic region and, more obliquely, with the names of Aztec gods.

Some of the movie shows life in motion. The camera observes salt harvesters sloshing water in rhythmic synchronization. A shot descends into a crater until all that’s visible is the crater’s floor, which resembles a giant eye.

Other stretches of “Gods of Mexico,” which shifts between black-and-white and color, are built from shots that contain barely any motion. A fisherman who has his catch strung from a bamboo trunk carries the beam behind his neck, as the wind ripples across his clothes. A cow-drawn cart and its driver remain surreally in place on a beach as waves lap the shore. Women balance baskets on their heads while standing frozen against a spare, desert-like backdrop.

Viewed as still photographs, these images have a raw power, and sound contributes to that effect. But the temporal element of cinema makes the compositions feel mannered and overly posed. (“Just one more second,” you picture the camera operator signaling to the women with baskets.) When, late in the film, miners playing a dice game converse, it only calls attention to how artfully — and perhaps artificially — withholding the preceding scenes have been. This nominal portrait of people isn’t interested in what they have to say.

Gods of Mexico
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 37 minutes. In theaters.

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