Documentary Review: Natives cling to the Old Way of Doing things — “Gods of Mexico”

Mystery hangs over the images of Natives that Helmut Dosantos captures in his debut feature doc, “Gods of Mexico.” These are ancient people doing ancient jobs in the most traditional way imaginable, and Dosantos set out to document entirely with images.

He only tells us which tribal and geographical corner of Mexico this sequence is set in — “Quetzalcoatl: The West,” “Huitzilopochtl: The South.”

He graces us with two simple category labels: “White” for “Mixtec: The South” to denote the salt pans we see men laboriously working, drying salt in and bagging, and then loading onto donkeys, and “Black” for “The North: Sierra de Catorce” where timeworn men crawl into a (Silver? Perhaps?) mine, chiseling and blowing up ore, playing crap games by headlamp light on their breaks.

Nothing is explained, image is all. We see color and black and white silhouettes, iconic full “Flaherty” face shots and poses struck and held — by miners, laborers, men on horseback, men leading donkeys, a naked couple considering sex and staring at the camera.

Traditional masks of some sort decorate as many images as majestic Saguaro Cacti. We consider a meteorite crater, a village, a cockfight, a mysterious well-deep hole that is dug as part of the “White” chapter, where a fire is set and tended for hours as…some part of the salt-making process?

The sound is natural, the music “diegetic” — organic and captured as it is performed by old men on this bowed percussion instrument of that stringed jaw-harp.

We know which region and which Native people we’re seeing. Everything else you figure out on your own, or pause while streaming to look up on your phone.

The nude scene — a static pose — summons up memories of the beginning of documentary filmmaking, the Urtext films of Robert Flaherty, motion picture images of an anthropological/ethnographic nature.

I prefer my documentaries to be more informative than “Gods of Mexico.” But that prehistoric cinema connection renders this mesmerizing film as magical as it is historical, reminding us that a no-longer Third World country still has traditional people doing things much as they have for millennia, that ancient Dodge 3/4 ton truck that salt workers load with their sacks notwithstanding.

Rating: unrated, nudity, cockfighting

Credits: Scripted and directed by Helmut Dosantos. An Oscilloscope Labs release.

Running time: 1:37

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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