The filmmaking duo of Astrid Rondero & Fernanda Valadez, after their 2022 double Award-winning Identifying Features, are back to Sundance with ‘Sujo,’ another assured and quietly powerful cartel drama. Premiered in the World Cinema Dramatic Competition section, the newest collaboration from Rondero and Valadez is a piercing coming-of-age drama about identity and the repercussions of cartel violence. In a time when thousands of kids in Mexico are falling prey to the drug war – leaving them with a life that becomes all about trying their best to repel the circle of violence, the film talks about the transcendental power of dreams and how they carry us along. 

Using magic realistic flourishes that made Identifying Features feel haunting and mystical, Sujo follows the death of a renowned sicario from a small Mexican town. The untimely death leaves his four-year-old son Sujo orphaned and on the kill lists of his contemporaries. While he is able to escape the wrath of his father’s killer – thanks to his aunt, the life he is forced to live is one of isolation. 

His aunt Nemesia (played with utmost intensity by Yadira Perez) prefers living in the countryside, away from all the violence that goes on. She is self-sufficient strong-headed, and tries to bring Sujo up in a way that shields him from the entrapments of the city. Apart from the occasional visits from his cousins and his other aunt, Sujo is not allowed to go to school or to the town. The isolation develops a kind of rebellious nature in him that is further fueled by the angsty teenage spirit that his cousins want him to pursue – thus leading him on a path that is pretty similar to that of his father.

A still from Sujo (2024).
A still from Sujo (2024).

Will Sujo fall into the same traps that his father did, or will he escape them? Rather than exploring and frankly exploiting the same story we have often seen, Rondero and Valadez are more interested in what shapes a person’s identity. Broken into three chapters that are defined by the people that Sujo meets through his journey, the film partakes in observing what really pushes and pulls a person towards and away from violence. 

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Sujo is a silent boy with very little to no emotional outbursts. So, in order to understand such a character, you need to understand his surroundings first. The director duo is very particular in not creating too many emotional cues in their story and allowing the naturalistic setting to take over. Even though violence is always on the cusp – apart from a sequence in the second act, they never truly dive into the horrors of it. Which is what makes this observant and gentle coming-of-age story all the more powerful. 

Gorgeously shot, with powerful performances from Juan Jesus Verala, Yadia Perez & Sandra Lorenzano, Sujo is a film that believes in the idea of inherent kindness – whether it is in the name we carry or the dreams we dream. 

Sujo plays in the World Cinema Dramatic Competition section at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival.

Sujo (2024) Movie Links: IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes
Sujo (2024) Movie Cast: Juan Jesús Varela, Yadira Pérez, Sandra Lorenzano
Sujo (2024) Movie Genre: Drama | Runtime: 2h 6 Mins

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