Posts Tagged ‘slum’

After the accolades earned for Chronic – winner of Cannes best screenplay award last year – Michel Franco is currently busy promoting a film he co-directed with his sister Victoria, which is finally being released in Mexico: A Los Ojos. Presented at the 2013 Morelia Film Festival, A Los Ojos seems to follow the path Franco had undertaken with his first great international success and 2012 Cannes Caméra d’Or winner, Después de Lucia.

Once again, the 37-year old Mexican director draws from a widespread social malaise to conjure up a moving and crude depiction of contemporary Mexico. If bullying had been the catalyst of Después de Lucia’s drama, here the camera focuses on another, equally terrifying plague: organ trafficking.

Michel and Victoria Franco guide us through the lives of Mónica, a single mother working for a foundation helping street kids, her only child Omar, affected by a degenerative eye disease, and Benjamin, a homeless and drug addict teenager whom Mónica seeks to rescue from the streets.

Mónica is dedicated and thoroughly committed to her patients, at times even to the detriment of her own safety. Those fluent with Franco’s filmography may recognise the zealous, almost excessive dedication that would characterise Tim Roth’s character in Chronic. But Mónica’s care only goes up to a point, and that is when her son’s disease worsens and forces her to take a decision that will change their lives forever.

The Francos’ directing style is sober and minimalistic, so much so that at times the film feels more like a documentary than a work of fiction. And indeed it is, or at least partly so, for while Michel worked on the story’s fictitious elements, his sister Victoria worked closely with the street kids who turned into the drama’s protagonists, in order to focus on the reality the film sought to address. The camera stands still for most of the film, as if camouflaged in between the furniture or the slums’ debris, and the lens lingers on the scene even after the characters have gone out of frame.

The blurring of fiction and reality is a purposeful (and remarkably effective) move. The merging of the two styles manages to paint Benjamin’s universe as a crude and credible wasteland, populated by kids who simply can’t get over their past and are condemned to endlessly try to escape it – to no avail. It is telling that when Benjamin and Omar’s sight begins to deteriorate and the doctors try to cure the two, only Omar begins to show any progress. Benjamin will never truly “see” a life away from the streets.

A Los Ojos does not follow the same brutal rhythm of Después de Lucia, nor is the terrifying truth underpinning the plot as explicit as it is in other works by Franco. But if the drama develops more slowly, it does so in a way that is no less haunting. The combination of fiction and realism which permeates A Los Ojos makes it stand out as a powerful and moving cry against one of Mexico’s enduring malaises. The overarching question one is left with is not whether the two kids will ever be able to see again, but whether society will stop turning a blind eye on its horrific plagues.

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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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