The Infiltrators
(Cristina Ibarra, Alex Rivera)

A scene from Cristina Ibarra and Alex Rivera’s  The Infiltrators  {Photo: CHICAGO MEDIA PROJECT}

A scene from Cristina Ibarra and Alex Rivera’s The Infiltrators {Photo: CHICAGO MEDIA PROJECT}

Richard Brody once wrote in The New Yorker that reenactments in documentary cinema were a “failure of aesthetic judgment”. The article, written in 2015 in reference to Andrew Jarecki’s HBO miniseries The Jinx, largely encapsulated my feelings w/r/t the stylistically devoid trajectory of contemporary documentary filmmaking. There are rare occasions when the stylistic choice of recreations benefit the film – I’m specifically thinking of Bart Layton’s The Imposter and Robert Greene’s Bisbee ’17; the effect is typically layered in an awareness of the performative qualities behind the choice. There’s a consciousness behind the choice that feeds into the thematic motive of the documentary, wherein reenactments serve to demonstrate their inherent falsehoods (the idea of a stranger assuming another person’s identity, i.e. the act of performance in The Imposter) or a cultural disconnect between reality and fiction (the town of Bisbee refusing to acknowledge their historically insensitive past in Bisbee ’17).  

With Cristina Ibarra and Alex Rivera’s The Infiltrators, the use of reenactments serve no purpose beyond a narrative function, wherein a cadre of undocumented activists turn themselves over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement in order to observe how a detention center functions. The use of reenactments are conjoined with scenes involving “real” activists in their hub base as they attempt to stave off deportation for the numerous men and women detained in the center.  This portion of the film is most interesting, in part because it explores the extensive logistical details associated with these activists (most of which are undocumented) trying to keep people in the United States. It also examines the emotional sacrifices these young men and women make in order to affect some measure of cultural and institutional change. But Ibarra and Rivera’s narrative proclivities and attempts to amplify “tension” through their use of reenactments just come across as terribly false. The attempts to make this into some sort of shoe string espionage thriller is never convincing and the end result is a shallow film on a group’s activism that doesn’t seem to understand that true horror does not need reenacting – we’re living it.