Juliana Fanjul's reverent film about censored radio host Carmen Aristegui is intermittently inspiring, if a little underpowered
The short but emotionally charged documentary Radio Silence follows an inspiring figure in the fight against systemic injustice in Mexico. Radio news host Carmen Aristegui had made her name as a hugely popular voice for the people crusading against the corrupt regime of Enrique Pena Nieto (since voted out and replaced by the left-leaning Andres Obrador, aka AMLO), before Nieto had her illegally fired from her station, forcing her into a guerrilla news campaign to expose uncomfortable truths about the government.
It's a story with deep personal resonance for director Juliana Fanjul, who – like many Mexicans – looked to Aristegui for truth and inspiration amidst the day to day darkness of Mexican political life and cartel violence. A hushed, reverent narration plays over a lot of the footage of Aristegui, which provides very helpful historical context and helps an outsider audience understand just how influential Aristegui is in her home country. If it strays a bit close to hagiography at times, it’s a tone that’s justified by the constant adoration that Aristegui receives when walking around out in public.
Perhaps inevitably, Radio Silence struggles to be as affecting to us as it is to its makers, its very low-key presentation rarely truly gripping, but its matter-of-fact handling of the terrifying and lethal violence faced by journalists in Mexico is still powerful. Whether it’s grainy CCTV footage of a cartel hit or a discovery that the government sent goons to Aristegui’s new offices to extrajudicially search the place, danger lurks around a lot of Radio Silence’s corners. Aristegui and her team are courageous, but they can’t always hide their fear, and it’s in these moments that the film is at its most effective and arresting.
One of the rare documentaries of its kind with a happy-ish (or, at least, hopeful-ish) ending, Radio Silence does feel underpowered at times but, in shining a light on an indomitable will that helped to change her country for the better, still manages to compel across its brief and fleet-footed 80-minute runtime.
Radio Silence is released on True Story on 20 January.Where to watch