Ominous, heartbreaking, and beautifully shot, the Sundance 2024 film SUJO, from Fernanda Valadez and Astrid Rondero (Identifying Features), examines cyclical violence and trauma through the lives of the family left behind by a murdered cartel member.
Nemesia hides her nephew Sujo with the help of Rosalia and her two young sons, Jeremy and Jai. During early childhood, the five exist in abject poverty in the middle of nowhere, entertaining themselves as best as they can, knowing someday the isolation may be too much. As the boys grow, curiosity puts them into increasingly more precarious situations, proving the danger of their familial sins lingers forever.
Young Kevin Aguilar, as four-year-old Sujo, is beguiling. The camera loves him. Juan Jesús Varela plays teenaged Sujo, left to carry the emotional burdens of his father’s past. Varela’s performance is magnificent, as are his onscreen cousins, Jairo Hernandez and Alexis Varela. Their chemistry is magic.
Yadira Pérez gives Nemesia an authentically grounded aura. Her practical and watchful approach to raising Sujo gives him an emotional stronghold. Nemesia literally translates as “Vengeance.” This small detail is as brilliant as her vital otherworldly abilities. Karla Garrido brings an entirely different level of motherly kindness playing Rosalia. She is a beautiful foil for Pérez.
The film comes from an almost entirely female creative team whose blood, sweat, and tears pour off the screen. SUJO is infused with empathy, fear, and care. The screenplay is a skillfully crafted tale that pulls you into Sujo’s center of gravity. As a Mother, witnessing the integration of protective instincts speaks volumes. The score is haunting. At times, the dialogue mirrors Sujo’s journey. It is undeniably impactful. Throughout the film, women look out for Sujo’s best interests. In a way, the film is an ode to invisible labor.
JEWERL KEATS ROSS
- PRODUCTION DESIGNER
- PRINCIPAL CAST
JUAN JESÚS VARELA
- RUN TIME