Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 11, No. 2, 2012
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Robert J. Lewis
  Senior Editor
Bernard Dubé
  Contributing Editors
David Solway
Nancy Snipper
Andrée Lafontaine
Daniel Charchuk
Samuel Burd
Sylvain Richard
Marissa Consiglieri de Chackal
  Music Editors
Emanuel Pordes
Serge Gamache
  Arts Editor
Lydia Schrufer
Mady Bourdage
Marcel Dubois
Emanuel Pordes
  Film Reviews
  Bowling for Columbine
Shanghai Ghetto
Talk to Her
City of God
Magdalene Sisters
Dirty Pretty Things
Barbarian Invasions
Fog of War
Blind Shaft
The Corporation
Station Agent
The Agronomist
Maria Full of Grace
Man Without a Past
In This World
Buffalo Boy
Shake Hands with the Devil
Born into Brothels
The Edukators
Big Sugar
A Long Walk
An Inconvenient Truth
Sisters In Law
Send a Bullet
Banking on Heaven
Chinese Botanist's Daugher
Ben X
La Zona
The Legacy
Irina Palm
4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days
Poor Boys Game
Finn's Girl
Leaving the Fold
The Mourning Forest
Beneath the Rooftops of Paris
Before Tomorrow
Paraiso Travel
Necessities of Life
For a Moment of Freedom
Blood River
By the Will of Genghis Kahn
The Concert
Weaving Girl
Into Eternity
When We Leave
Le Havre

Roberto Hernandez & Geoffrey Smith's

Roberto Hernandez & Geoffrey Smith codirectors of Presumed Guilty


reviewed by


Every person working in Mexico's justice system ought to see this documentary. But that will never happen. In point of fact, the film was initially banned in the country, but was eventually allowed to be shown. It is the highest grossing documentary in Mexican film history. It closely follows the tragic plight of Antonio, who has been wrongly accused of a murder.

from Presumed GuiltyWithout proper legal protocol, he is thrown into jail, which is what happens in 95% of arrests. Two lawyers are assigned to his case. With a camera inside his jail which later tracks the goings-on inside the tiny little office where his trial is held -- after two years of rotting in jail -- we watch another lawyer who will speak for him and attempt to rip apart the false testimony given by Victor, a witness of ill repute. Joining him are the horrific detective and his evil cohorts who pulled him off the street to make the arrest. All are liars, and as Antonio's lawyer attempts to ask pertinent relevant questions, the problematic judge denies him any recourse to reassess the lies in the file on Antonio. Rather, the judge simply forces the benevolent and highly courageous lawyer to ask questions that have nothing to do with seeking his client's freedom. The female prosecutor looks like a tiny hunchback of Notre Dame as she sits laughing and smiling sardonically at the proceedings. There is what they call a face-off, where Antonio is allowed to interrogate his accusers. This is a terribly riveting scene, in which evidence clearly shows Antonio is innocent. Through clever questioning, Antonio uncovers the lies. We expect him to get off, finally. But when the camera shows the judge and prosecutor reentering the room, they are both laughing. Antonio is read the verdict through the tiny window full of bars in which prisoners stand in court. He is found guilty. Evidently 97% of cases result in a guilty verdict, despite the total lack of evidence to prove such guilt. In fact, Antonio was working that day, a fact corroborated by three workers. Still, such evidence was not allowed to be admitted into court or is rebuked by the judges if heard.

Antonio's case dramatically exemplifies Mexico's travesty of justice. After rotting in jail for nearly three years (during which time his child was born), his case is finally accepted by an appellate court (court of appeal). For that trial, the camera is not allowed in, but one judge reveals on-camera that there was a shadow of doubt about his guilt and he managed to convince the other judges, who pronounced him guilty, that they were misguided. Antonio is finally freed, and we are relieved, but angry at the suffering he had to endure. We discover the diabolical detective who arrested him and lied was promoted. We also find out that most of the youth rotting in jail in this lawless land have fallen under the law of presumed guilt; that everyone arrested is guilty and that innocence is a long and solitary road that goes unrecognized in Mexico's justice system.

In 2016, Mexico will overturn the presumed guilty law, but the filmmakers fear that not a single judge will support the new law that will still oblige the 'accused' to spend no less than 80 days behind bars. This immeasurably important film (2009) has garnered several awards, has been screened in 11 international festivals, and is one of the six films featured in the New Mexican Film Week offered by Montreal's Cinema Latino-americano.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Nancy SnipperPersonally, I had first-hand experience, albeit minor, compared to this film, of Mexico's sham of a justice system. I was robbed in the casita by one of the three workers who entered to garden, fix the water pump and the non-working TV. I was abused by the rental agent of Roma Agency in Ajijic who wanted to get rid of me from the get-go as did the owner of the casita. "I want her out." She also told me not to make ‘trouble’ whatever that meant. When the local police of Ajijic arrived, they did nothing, but informed me I had to go to Chapala city to file the police report. It took over two hours for the police to type out the report which I was to get in my hands the following day. Though the policeman writing up the report was told the name of the agency renting me the casita, along with the names of the owner and the three workmen who had access to the place, an investigation was never carried out.

There are too many absurd details to give you now, but suffice it to say, locals told me the police are often in on the robberies, and refrain from investigating. Who knows it could be one of their relatives who does the robbing. After all, Ajijic is a small town.

The rental agent changed the locks immediately after I was robbed, threw me out on the street, rubbing in my face that I was never to come back to ‘her’ town, and that the 120 dollars coming from "her own pocket" (she kept repeating this to me) was to help me find a place to stay for the remainder of my ten day stay. Because she instantly changed the lock without telling me or waiting for the police from Chapala to arrive -- nearly seven hours after the robbery -- they had no access to get in and inspect. I had been given two hours to collect my things; the phone was disconnected and I was without anything.

The entire ordeal proved to me how totally despicable is Mexico's justice system -- that its corruption is insidiously entrenched at every level of the law, and that big or small crime will never be investigated correctly. This horrific robbery (I was sleeping when the perpetrators entered the casita) personally left me thinking Mexico is a grand place for music, sun and sea, but at the bat of an eyelid, you could end up in jail or be a victim of a crime -- left stranded without legal integrity working on your side. Be very very careful. Once in jail, minute are your chances of ever seeing the bright sun of the day that shines beyond prison bars. See the film to understand that the whimsy of Mexican justice is as frightening as crime itself.



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