El Vigilante shows one eventful night on a construction site on the outskirts of Mexico City, where a young security guard named Salvador is tasked with protecting the premises. Will Salvador eventually go home to his wife, who is constantly calling him during the delivery of their first child, in the middle of the night? Director Diego Ros tells us all about his esoteric and fascinating film debut.
The camera follows Salvador on his shift. In the opening scene, we witness how he encounters police cars on his way to work, near the soon-to-be-gated community. It appears that the body of a 2-year-old was found in a van. It’s a bad omen, to say the least: During the night Salvador is going to encounter a lot of trouble, including the sudden death of a female visitor who gets hit by a stray bullet.
In one scene, we observe the future inhabitants of the building, overlooking the valley of Mexico City. They are white and probably rich. Is this a reflection on Mexico’s gap between poor and rich?
“It’s definitely something that’s there. I didn’t want to make it overly explicit. Due to the violence and the traffic in the city, rich people in Mexico have begun to move to the outskirts. They are relocating to the hills, building these large condos and living in these very secluded residential areas. These areas are sold as little bubbles of paradise.”
And poor people protect their possessions, while they can’t even afford their own car. In the opening scene you show how Salvador has to travel by metro every day.
“They can’t own a car because being a security guard is probably one of the lowest paying jobs in Mexico. These people often have to travel across the city to get to work. I know people who commute for hours every day. So, they spend lots of time at work and get paid miserably. And they don’t have the time to invest in the future.”
Despite the ordeals Salvador suffers, he seems to be a decent human being. Although we do watch him making moral compromises. For instance, when he decides to lie to a police officer. He deliberately changes his statement concerning the kid in the van.
“The main character has something very simple to do: to go home after his shift. He tries to leave several times and he’s not able to. There are different reasons for this, but they always have something to with some kind of compromise he has to make. He must decide whether he’s comfortable leaving the site as it is, or if there’s something else bothering him that he has to make sure is not going to cause him any trouble later on. The longer he stays in that place, the more involved he becomes with everything that’s happening. Like that statement: his partner made a statement that contradicts his own testimony. Salvador believes that they should straighten out things so they’re not going to get in trouble. He learns that they found a boy in the van and he feels it’s his duty as a citizen to report what his partner saw, so that there can be some kind of investigation and justice can be served. And then it turns out the police are criminals themselves. This is a caricatural kind of thing. But the movie, in the end, is asking you to not take it as a representation of reality but as a perception of Mexico. As it moves forward the movie feels like a thriller but it’s not really a thriller; it’s a farce. A farce disguised as a thriller.”
The sudden death of the woman is a painful reference to life in Mexico City, almost as if a life is worth less there. It feels like such a random act. On the one hand we have Salvador creating new life with his wife and on the other hand we see how somebody can die in such a mundane manner.
“You know when things started to get really ugly in Mexico City nobody knew what was really going on. Somebody described it to me as when you cut the head of a chicken and the body keeps running. The government waged a war against the head of the drug trafficking capo’s and they caught many of them. Then violence happened due to a power vacuum. It was complete chaos, and it felt so random. That’s the idea behind the stray bullet hitting that character. There’s a party somewhere and some people are firing their guns because they’re happy. And somebody else gets hit by a stray bullet, which by the way is based on a true story. But her death is so banal. Violence is usually used in a movie as a very dramatic element. But violence can be many other things. This woman gets hit out of nowhere and nobody knows who shot her. They’re never going to find the guilty party.”
You are foreshadowing these kinds of dark events during the opening scene, when we see lightning strike on the other end of the valley, in the distance, as a warning. This is going to get ugly.
“The movie tries to be very stylized in that sense. It is almost shot in a cartoony way. We had the German expressionist movies from the twenties in mind. With the shadows and the sharp compositions and the gothic architecture. We had the idea of seeing this place trough that kind of filter with scary compositions. It was important for the building to be a high-rise so that we could see the lights of the city when they turn on at night. It feels like there’s and audience in the distance and that the characters play in a theater. In the morning when the lights go of, life goes on. What happened during the night feels like a fever dream.”