Deserved Recognition for Colombian Cinema

in 35th Cinélatino – Rencontres de Toulouse

by David Sánchez

Without a doubt, the success of Colombian films at festivals in 2022 has turned the world’s attention to this stimulating and innovative national cinema.

If we had to define the year 2022, we would sum it up as the year in which Colombian cinema emerged internationally and showed the world what it was capable of, winning multiple awards in Berlin, Cannes, and San Sebastian. Colombian cinema also earned the Focus on Contemporary Colombian Cinema program within the Rencontres de Toulouse, CinéLatino. The festival was attended by many Colombian filmmakers, such as Laura Mora, Andrés Ramírez Pulido, Theo Montoya, Diana Bustamante, and Juan Sebastián Mesa.

Numerous films in this program shared a common thematic thread: a lack of belonging, a feeling felt widely in a country recovering from an internal war, a national nightmare, after the signing of peace in 2016. The blood that has been splattered over the country for years has given way to a national reconciliation that is more difficult to fulfill in reality than on paper. As always, cinema is a representation of society at a given moment. The Colombian directors attending the Focus know this well and want to depict the difficulty of finding their place.

The jewel in the crown, in terms of international relevance, was The Kings of the World (Los Reyes del Mundo, 2022) by the young director Laura Mora, who won the Golden Shell at the San Sebastian Festival. The film narrates the lives of five boys who live on the streets, one of whom, Ra (Carlos Andrés Castañeda), receives a letter indicating that he is entitled to a piece of land. The journey to reclaim this land forms the premise used by Mora to create a Colombian-style road movie.

The film’s moments of dynamism (dancing in a moving lorry, cycling along the roads) contrast with its slow, contemplative images (a white horse, a bike flying in slow motion). The film seeks a  balance between a real world and a dreamlike one, between vertigo and calm, between need and comfort.

Like the very lives narrated in the film, the script is marked by the unexpected. We do not know what will happen, nothing is certain, and we are confronted with the question of whether to believe what we see, such as in the case of a dream where the influence of Gabriel García Marquez’s magical realism are reflected in a marvelous sequence shot involving an uninhabitable house.

Continuing with the theme of young misfits, we have La Jauría (2022), from director Andrés Ramírez Pulido, who won at Cannes Critics’ Week. Echoing the purest Michel Franco style in the economy of camera movement and unexpected, calculated violence, Ramírez Pulido presents us with an experimental detention centre. As in The Kings of the World, a group of young people with no apparent future discover their way of life, their way of relating to each other, in acts of violence. Crafting intricate shots worthy of a surgeon, Ramírez Pulido manages to conjure the familiarity of the detention centre in such a way that we feel like one more of these kids. The brutality of some of the images, together with a memorable ensemble performance, make us feel the tension in every second of the film.

The script poses the eternal paradox of whether fighting violence with more violence is a legitimate solution, or whether, on the contrary, new re-education techniques are needed to change a part of society that intrinsically does not understand the world without violence. The final shots are a paradoxical declaration of the director’s intentions regarding the future of his country.

Alis (2022), from Clare Weiskopf, who won the Generation 14plus award in Berlin, also depicts a group of young people with unstructured lives. In this case, a group of vulnerable Colombian girls share their daily lives with the camera, talking about “Alis”. A way of healing through words, through feeling listened to by the director, using as an escape valve the invention of a character like “Alis”, who is each of the girls who speak, in her most successful version. The deep sentimental charge in each of these girls’ words makes us realise the traumas they must have gone through in their past. This perception of naturalness in front of the camera, the great innocence that some of the protagonists exude, means that regardless of the culture from which this film is viewed, the message reaches the viewer’s feelings like a torpedo. An added value of this film is the fact that it is a documentary, opening a door to this type of film on the international scene, following in the footsteps of Chilean filmmakers such as Patricio Guzmán and Maite Alberdi.

The indescribable Anhell69 (2022), directed by Theo Montoya, a winner at the Venice Critics’ Week, features trans characters struggling in an imaginary world where it is forbidden to have sex with ghosts. This dreamlike film is made up of bits and pieces of interviews with people who are already dead, friends of the filmmaker who, for one reason or another, have become part of the world of the dead, thus creating a raw work in which ghosts talk to ghosts, placing the spectator in a temporal and spatial limbo, flying over Medellín, accompanying red-eyed ghosts, witnessing interviews or being driven by Victor Gaviria in a hearse. Here the unexpected becomes reality, the dead awaken, and cinema loses its label to become trans, as the director himself likes to say.

Another genre-defying film seen at CinéLatino Toulouse is A Male (Un Varón, 2022), by director Fabian Hernandez, who joined Ramírez Pulido at Cannes, where A Male screened as part of the Directors’ Fortnight. Carlos (an extraordinary Dilan Felipe Ramírez Espitia) suffers from the obligation to prove at all times that he is a man. Violence and an unbreakable spirit are the tools to show himself to a society that marginalises the weak or all those who deviate from preconceived roles. Carlos’ cries of missing his mother do not allow him to achieve the status that society demands of him. He feels that he does not fit in, that he cannot find his place, and wonders why one has to constantly prove oneself. A Male reveals, once again, contemporary Colombian cinema’s capacity to portray young people seeking to fit into society.

CinéLatino Toulouse’s Focus on contemporary Colombian cinema featured many other works, such as Nuestra pelicula (2022), La Roya (2021), Virus Tropical (2017), and Days of the Whale (Los días de la Ballena, 2019). The series functions as a calling card, granting us an idea of the type of Colombian cinema that we will be able to find in the future. Like the youths that appear in these films, Colombian cinema is slowly finding its place in the world, and it will, undoubtedly, be brilliant.

David Sanchez
Edited by José Teodoro