The Devil Never Sleeps

Director: Lourdes Portillo
Screenwriters: Lourdes Portillo

Institute History

  • 1995 Sundance Film Festival


Early on a Sunday morning in July, filmmaker Lourdes Portillo receives a phone call from her native home, Chihuahua, Mexico, with bad news. Her beloved uncle, Oscar Ruiz Alemedia, has been shot to death. His widow immediately declares his death a suicide. Most of the family, however, raise a cry of murder, with suspicions cast in a number of directions: his business partner, his farmhand, even his second wife.

Portillo returns to Mexico with a film crew to investigate and find the truth. That’s where things get complicated. Who was Uncle Oscar? Who knew him? More importantly, what part of this knowledge is clouded by memory? Although the story develops like a murder mystery, the truth is a synthesis of many elements: emotion and logic, evidence and hypothesis, melodrama and police procedures. The lively cast of characters—family members and friends (both alive and dead via a séance)—are very helpful as each is only too eager to share. But as each stone is turned, we find not an answer but another question. The film becomes more than a family drama; it is a personal journey filled with poignancy, pathos, and whimsy.

What is remarkable about The Devil Never Sleeps is that as the facts of the murder become blurred, the film begins to resonate with the exploration of changing self and culture; Portillo even examines her unresolved emotions about emigrating to the U.S. at the age of thirteen. With striking cinematography and strategic editing, Portillo’s poetic imagery bridges the gap between past and present and weaves a tapestry from the notions of family and home. In The Devil Never Sleeps, the devil may be something we cannot resolve, but we can’t forget it, either

— John Cooper

Screening Details


As you use our Online Archives, please understand that the information presented from Festivals, Labs, and other activities is taken directly from official publications from each year. While this information is limited and doesn't necessarily represent the full list of participants (e.g. actors and crew), it is the list given to us by the main film/play/project contact at the time, based on the space restrictions of our publications. Each entry in the Online Archives is meant as a historical record of a particular film, play, or project at the time of its involvement with Sundance Institute. For this reason, we can only amend an entry if a name is misspelled, or if the entry does not correctly reflect the original publication. If you have questions or comments, please email [email protected]