Posts Tagged ‘Cartagena’

In a plethora of works more or less directly related with the armed conflict, a suffocating as much as fertile leitmotiv of Colombia’s cinema, Siembra is a breath of fresh and much-needed air. Co-directed by Ángela Osorio and Santiago Lozano, it touches upon a particularly delicate aspect of the country’s internal warfare – and does it with a humane and original touch that makes it stand out as a memorable work of its kind.

Osorio and Lozano set their film in a slum in the outskirts of a Colombian big city. We do not know the city’s name, because it’s the sort of story that needs no specific place to be credible, and which Colombia knows all too well. Turco is a farmer from Colombia’s Pacific coast who has been forced to leave home because of the war, but dreams of returning, until his son’s death will force him to abandon his hopes and roam a city trying to give him a proper burial. He is one of the 6.4 million Colombians the armed conflict has forced to abandon their dwelling: all he’s ever asked for is to be buried under a bread tree, and for his family to be buried next to him when the time will come.

Siembra could have easily turned into a petty fetishization of Colombia’s internally displaced people. But it does not. El Turco’s universe is treated with a compassionate touch which pays justice to the plight of a farmer who only wishes to cultivate his land. But the land is miles and miles away, and as his neighbours warn him, “the owners of your world already took it away from you, your land is someone else’s now”. As time goes by and the drama unfolds it is the hope to have his plot back that fills the void a son’s death has left behind. The earth, in some fundamental sense, becomes a daughter whose memory can only be evoked through the traditional chants of the Colombian Pacific.

Osorio and Lozano handpicked non professional actors with years of experience as musicians. And Siembra is a profoundly musical film. It is music (and dance) which offer Turco’s son the chance to gain the respect of his peers, and it is music (and litanies) which are used to accompany his journey to the otherworld. It is not just Turco’s plight which is respected, but his culture and the cultural heritage of his homeland.

Premiered at Locarno’s 2015 Film Festival, where it won the Independent Critics Boccalino Award for best direction, Siembra won the Jury’s Special Award at Cartagena’s 56th International Film Festival. A much-deserved recognition for a film that touches upon one of Colombia’s greatest tragedies without turning it into a spectacle, but into an opportunity to reflect on the magnitude of a never-ending war.

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After winning a special mention at Locarno’s 2014 Film Festival with Ventos de Agosto, Brazilian director Gabriel Mascaro arrives at Cartagena’s 56th Film Festival with Boi Neon (Neon Bull), a little cinematic gem whose 101 minutes have been, thus far, the most applauded of this year’s official competition.

A group of cowboys drives across the rugged North-East of Brazil carrying a pack of bulls to the Vaquejadas, the traditional rodeos where two cowboys on horseback must pit the bull between the horses before pulling its tail and knocking it down. The nomadic troupe travels from one rodeo to another, featuring amongst its members preadolescent Cacá (a girl who knows just as many swearwords as her older colleagues), her young mother Galega (wife to a husband who’s been gone for years), Zé (an overweight cowboy with an addiction for porn), and finally Iremar, the drama’s protagonist, a buffed and tough-looking cowboy with an unusual passion for fashion design.

Mascaro paints his rural Brazil as a wasteland filled with abandoned industrial buildings and open-air landfills, populated with characters who dream to be someone they are not, and will probably never be. Cacá dreams of owning a horse (but must get her hands dirty with bull manure on a daily basis), Galega wants to become a dancer (but can only perform some explicit burlesque before dozens of jubilant cowboys), and Iremar spends his free time collecting broken mannequins and designing his clothes on top of Zed’s porn pictures.

Given the premises, it is easy to see how Boi Neon could have easily turned into a melodramatic portrait of rural Brazil, ridden with pity and sorrow. But it does not, because notwithstanding his young directing career, Mascaro’s skills behind the camera and as a storyteller are extraordinary.

Iremar’s tale is bound to elicit a certain sense of sadness, but Mascaro chooses to deconstruct it in a way that is, at once, mellow and ironic. He does not ask us to we feel sorry for Iremar’s condition, for Iremar is not trapped within a body he does not accept, nor does he feel particularly uncomfortable performing a role society has assigned him. There’s a memorable scene in which Iremar snatches one of Zé’s porn magazines and begins to draw over a lady’s naked body. The camera shows Iremar sketching what appears to be some sober underwear on top of the woman’s genitalia, and the viewer is led to believe he’s trying to prudishly cover them. But a few seconds later, when the lens is back on the page, Iremar’s drawing has turned into an overly promiscuous outfit that leaves very little room for imagination. Iremar’s two sides, as well as those of the other crew members, simply coexist. And this is probably the film’s ultimate message and what makes it stand out as a remarkable work: to accept one’s diversity is to ultimately appreciate the syncretism that is inherent in human nature.

There are plenty of films about people trapped within hostile surroundings from which they try (and fail) to escape; there are plenty which add to these constraints a gender dimension, but only a few which manage to do the above with the mixture of irony and tenderness with which Mascaro paints his Boi Neon. His name is a beautiful and much-welcomed discovery for Latin America and world cinema at large.

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The jubilant “¡que viva Chile!” producer Patricio Escala shouted as he and director Gabriele Osorio received the Oscar for best animated short film was probably one of this year’s ceremony’s most memorable moments. The two had more than one reason to celebrate: Historia de un Oso (Bear Story) was Chile’s first ever Oscar. Yet Escala and Osorio’s was not the only Latin American country to leave a trace on last Sunday’s ceremony. Colombia made her first appearance before the Academy with Ciro Guerra’s El Abrazo de la Serpiente as best foreign language film nominee, and Mexico won big with the duo Iñárritu-Lubezki, the first now celebrating his second consecutive best director award, the latter his third as best cinematographer.

In some important ways the Oscars seem to have consolidated the spot Latin America cinema has gained over the past few years. The region’s cinema is blossoming, and the world is enjoying and rewarding its growth. A look at the most recent Academy’s decisions is telling: if Emmanuel Lubezki has become one of the Academy’s most successful habitués (and now holds a record as the only cinematographer to have won three times in a row), Mexico has also fathered the best directors of the past three editions: Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity, 2014) and Alejandro G. Iñárritu (Birdman, 2015 and The Revenant, 2016). But Latin America’s successes extend outside the United States too. In 2015 alone the region left an indelible mark across Europe’s most prestigious festivals. Venezuela’s Lorenzo Vigas’s Desde Allá won the Golden Lion at Venice’s 72nd International Film Festival, where Argentinian Pablo Trapero received the Silver Lion for best director for El Clan. At Cannes’s 68th Film Festival, Colombia’s César Acevedo’s was awarded the Caméra d’Or for his La Tierra y la Sombra, and Mexico’s Michel Franco’s Chronic won best screenplay.

While Latin America exports its gems abroad, Colombia is home to a festival which has historically helped developing the region’s cinematic potential. Held yearly in the Caribbean walled-city of Cartagena de Indias, the International Film Festival of Cartagena (FICCI) is Latin America’s oldest. Founded in 1960, it seeks to promote Ibero-American cinema, hosting the works of directors from Latin America, Portugal and Spain for a five-day movie feast set in Colombia’s coast. An entirely public event (entrance to all movies is free of charge), this year it will be home to some 120,000 viewers and will be screening 154 films, all of them more or less directly touching upon the region’s relationship with its often violent past.

For cinema, in the words of FICCI’s Artistic Director Diana Bustamante, turns into a mechanism that can help deconstruct a people’s history and heal collective traumas. Arguably never in the history of Latin America, and of Colombia in particular (close as it now is to sign a peace treaty and put an end to over 50 years of internal conflict with the leftist FARC guerrilla) has this calling been so urgent. The ten Ibero-American movies that will be screened in this year’s official competition look closely into the region’s past and the suffering caused by the multiple conflicts which have plagued it. From the armed conflict which Colombian Felipe Guerrero talks about in Oscuro Animal to the conflicts of gender and performativity which Gabriel Mascaro and Julio Hernández Cordón deal with in Boi Neon and Te Prometo Anarquía respectively, FICCI 56 aims to show the extent to which cinema can turn a history of violence into an opportunity to reimagine and shape an altogether different future.

From the 2nd until the 7th of March Cartagena’s Film Festival will offer a snapshot of the most recent transformations of Ibero-American cinema. FICCI, for the European as well as Latin American public, will be a unique opportunity to make sense of the renaissance which has brought the region back at the center of world cinema.

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