The Modern Jungle

The Modern Jungle poster

The Modern Jungle movie poster

Quite a few ethnographic films have been emerging from Latin America these last few years, most of them introducing little-known cultures, languages and rituals to audiences around the world. While ethnographic works are by definition documentaries, it’s undoubtedly their fictionalized variations that have been getting the most attention – I’m more particularly referring to the recent Ixcanul, Embrace of the Serpent and Land and Shade.

A documentary within a documentary feeling like fiction, The Modern Jungle is a strange hybrid work, whether it’s in terms of form or content.  Focusing on Juan, a Zoque (Chiapas) Shaman who suffers from a hernia, it also offers a behind the scenes look at the making of, filmmakers Charles Fairbanks and Saul Kak being heard in the background. This means that you not only follow Juan in his everyday life, whether he’s carrying wood for miles or going to the doctor, but also share the filmmakers’ experience. If, like me, you’ve been wondering what happens to the subjects of such documentaries, here is your chance to get some answers and there are a few particularly interesting moments. The first one is that not only Juan gets paid but hustles for more money. The second is when Juan and Juan and Carmen watch the documentary at home. Finally it’s when they learn that The Modern Jungle has been successful and are promised another check.

When it comes to the themes tackled here, The Modern Jungle is of course about the flawed Latin American health care system which is unaffordable for most, people surviving as much as they can without getting appropriate treatment. This takes us in another unexpected direction, the film suddenly taking on pyramid schemes promoting magic cures. This is especially cruel as Juan’s own nephew takes advantage of his hernia to recruit him, showing that despaired people are ready to try anything.

With a running time of only 72mn, The Modern Jungle however feels somewhat slow at times, failing to fully captivate me. First I think I might be biased but I might have gotten too spoiled by impressive visual works such as Salero, where images are as strong as the story, which isn’t the case here – the cinematography is decent though. More importantly while the mix of documentary and behind the scenes is pretty fresh, I found myself somewhat destabilized by the constant floating between these two perspectives, making The Modern Jungle an ambitious but not fully satisfying work.

Director: Charles Fairbanks – Actors: Juan Juarez Rodriguez, Carmen Echavarría Gomez – Running Time: 1:12 – Year: 2016 – Country: Mexico
Click here to read our review of The Modern Jungle
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Fred Thom

Fred Thom

Editor-in-Chief/Founder/Film Critic at Plume Noire
The founder and editor-in-chief of Plume Noire, Fred Thom covers film festivals and writes movie reviews. He was born in Marseilles, France and is now living in Los Angeles, California.
Fred Thom

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