Director: David Zonana
Screenwriters: David Zonana

Institute History

  • 2023 Sundance Film Festival


Eighteen-year-old Luis (Santiago Sandoval Carbajal) enlists as an infantry cadet in the Heroic Military College in the hopes of becoming an officer and supporting his struggling family. Tucked away in the mountains and surrounded by statues honoring Aztec gods, the school is constructed from giant slabs of stone and ruled by even more rigid rules of conduct. The curriculum combines mundane military training with rituals of abuse and humiliation. When Luis catches the eye of sadistic Sergeant Sierra, he learns new lessons in cruelty and extracurricular criminality.

In his second feature as a writer-director, David Zonana takes an unflinching look at the Mexican military and the violent social codes that regulate life in the barracks and beyond. Heroic deploys its austere setting and clinical compositions to depict Luis’ hopes to ascend the ranks and his disillusioned descent into madness. Beneath the chilly surface, Zonana finds fleeting undercurrents of solidarity between the cadets and barely submerged homoeroticism. Drawing upon his real-life experience as an ex-cadet, Carbajal movingly traces Luis’ moral crisis, while Fernando Cuautle is terrifying as his malevolent mentor.

Screening Details

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