Al Más Allá

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At the center of Al Más Allá is an allegory of three Mexican fishermen. After absconding with illegal drugs that wash ashore on the Mayan coast, they sell them to the corrupt local police for a handsome sum. Their lucrative transgression, however, carries a particular burden and an ominous warning:

“Whatever comes from the ocean... has to go back into the ocean...”

A hybrid documentary that uses fictional elements, Al Más Allá borrows from films that trace the corruptive influence of stolen wealth, including The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and A Simple Plan. However, it takes the next step of placing the personal moral degeneration of the fishermen in the political context of a nation struggling on the edge of the global economy. Pulled in the direction of other Caribbean resort communities, Mexico’s underdeveloped Mayan coast is quickly becoming both a lavish playground of the international leisure class and a major conduit for illegal drugs in transit from South America to U.S. markets. Al Más Allá explores the consequences of this shifting global wealth, as Mexican workers, separated from their traditional livelihoods, become the workforce that delivers the material amenities consumed by visiting tourists and foreign countries. Disenfranchised by a new economic reality, workers witness the tentacles of the powerful drug cartels reach into their developing towns. Will the violence caused by globalization and narcotics trafficking destroy the traditional culture of Mexican villages? Can the locals resist the lure of wealth amidst lawlessness and corruption?

To investigate this tumultuous and transformative moment in Mexico, director Lourdes Portillo humorously employs a fictional crew lead by a vain and blindly arrogant documentary filmmaker played by famed Mexican actress Ofelia Medina. Portillo, previously threatened by drug traffickers for her unflinching investigation of the disappearances of young Mexican women in her film Señorita Extraviada, uses this self-reflexive device both to protect herself and her crew during the shoot and to make fun of the heroic status bestowed on contemporary documentary filmmakers. Adventurously mixing documentary and narrative techniques, Al Más Allá follows the fumbling urban crew as they arrive in the beach town to mix with the locals and uncover the fate of the three fishermen. Real interviews with tourist guides, merchants, and American expats about the corruption and violence caused by drug trafficking in the region are interspersed with stylized narrative scenes that reveal the filmmaker’s preoccupations and personal ambitions that drive her search. Lyrical, visually intriguing, and entertaining, Al Más Allá is at once reportage into the expansive world of drug trafficking across Mexico and an ironic indictment of the cult of the documentary filmmaker whose romantic visions of herself and her mission often obscures the very truth she seeks.

"Al Más Allá, Portillo’s latest... advances the filmmaker's self-aware and searching style in an ostensibly playful yet subtle and far-reaching 43-minute investigation."
      -- Robert Avila,

2008 • Video • 43 min. • Experimental Documentary • With Ophelia Medina
Color • USA • English and Spanish • Subtitles
Distributor: Xochitl Productions