A Film Without Words on Three Women’s Journeys to a New Life: "Dark Beast"

in 16th New Horizons International Film Festival, Wroclaw

by Margarita Chapatte Lopez

This years’ Wroclaw New Horizons edition coincided with Wroclaw being designated as European Capital of Culture 2016. And San Sebastián, another city with an important international film festival, is the other European Capital of Culture 2016! This was a very good reason for celebrating Basque Cinema with the retrospective Three Generations of Directors. The retrospective featured, among others, the seventies’ cult punk classic Arrebato by Ivan Zulueta (Rapture, 1979), Juanma Bajo Ulloa’s Butterfly Wings (Alas de mariposa, 1991), Montxo Armendariz’s Tasio (1984) and the more recent Jose Mari Goenaga and Jon Garaño’s Flowers (Loreak, 2014), nominated as the Spanish candidate for the last Oscar (Best Foreign Language Film). The retrospective was completed with the screening of major Basque filmmaker Víctor Erice’s entire oeuvre. Last, but not least, many of the filmmakers whose films were shown, were invited to discussions with Wroclaw’s audiences. Thus there were many interesting exchanges on films yet unknown in Poland, frequented by young and enthusiastic film lovers who came in great numbers to Wroclaw for the festival.

And although Spanish culture has been an important focus in Wroclaw this year, it was a Colombian feature with no (Spanish) word pronounced, which captured my attention: Oscuro animal (Dark Beast) is the third film by Felipe Guerrero and his fiction debut, made after the documentaries Paraíso (Paradise, 2006) and Corta (Cut, 2012), both awarded at film festivals worldwide. Guerrero started his own producing company 4 years ago (which also takes care of his work) mainly to make art and experimental cinema possible. For his debut, he also mustered co-production participation from  Argentina, Netherlands, Germany and Greece.

Oscuro animal (Dark Beast) focuses on three women who, harassed by war in the Colombian jungle, must find a way to a new life in the city. Which is also a jungle but of a different kind, sometimes even worse than the green wilderness they try to escape from. The film has no dialogue but is nonetheless a powerful one, capturing the dangerous energy emanating from the dark beast. That is, revealing the way men mob women whether by using or abusing them, or even killing them if this is what they want and need to do. The three main characters in Oscuro animal have such an intense gaze that nothing else could match their expression of feeling and understanding of their (silent) fear and pain. The lush and full of life rainforest is a prison for them: they must run away at all costs, into the dark blue city, letting only few rays of sunlight to pass through the cracks.

This feature film is like a magnified picture of a rural and quiet feminine world, preyed upon for dark and most horrible male purposes. There is however always some glimmer of hope, born from desperation and loss, and worth fighting for.

Felipe Guerrero says he wanted to tell the story of these three women who runaway all by themselves, women who, despite all odds, fight in order to get away from their suffocating life circumstances. Wild nature is a metaphor for the dark beast stalking them everywhere, and insidious violence is stunningly portrayed in this film without dialogue or pronounced words. As the filmmaker adds, “deliberate word omission is an effective way to come face to face with the void, caused by war. Silence is used as the best practice to communicate, a much stronger way than words, through its expressive content.” Last but not least, Felipe Guerrero claims he wants to separate his Oscuro animal (Dark Beast) from the well-known Colombian problems: “paramilitaries, guerrillas, and the official army”, as well as from “any kind of peace process.” He just wants to explore the way how his three main characters “confront conflict” in their day-to-day reality, and not to critically consider Colombia’s past and present conflicts.

Watching Oscuro animal (Dark Beast) is like receiving a gut-punch, it leaves no-one unmoved. The film is a very interesting example of late Latin-American cinema, because of its good cinematographic and directing qualities; the great acting of the three main actresses; and powerful wordlessness, all of which master a very tough subject.    

Edited by Christina Stojanova