Daydream in a Beautiful Town

in 54th Cartagena International Film Festival

by Hiroaki Saito

Just like the sunlight reflecting a number of colors in the beautiful Caribbean city in which the festival took place, the films taking part in the official drama competition of 54th International Cartagena Film Festival each radiated its own color.

The most important discovery was To Kill a Man (Matar a un hombre), which the FIPRESCI jury had given its prize to. This third feature by a promising director Alejandro Fernandez Almendras was full of “throbs”. In the opening part of the film, unreasonable harm done to a family seems first to annoy the audience, after which a bizarre tension dominates the film, making the viewer more and more uncomfortable. This is a total thriller, and yet the director inserts his unique sense of humor in some parts, which proves very effective. The style of the film is suggestive of Joel & Ethan Coen’s Fargo. In one important sequence of a parking lot stakeout, the director makes use of the long take to convey fear and humor at the same time. It was the greatest moment in all the films of this year’s competition. I hear the director is planning to make a sci-fi film next. His limitless imagination gives him potential to become the next generation’s Guillermo del Toro.

While To Kill a Man portrayed the complexity of a family relationship only in parts, most of this year’s competition films were focused directly on family issues. In particular, the topic of a “lost father” stood out very strongly. The story told in Root (Raiz) was of the absence of a father and the solitude of a son. Juxtaposing the son’s inner conflict with the magnificent landscapes of Chile brought wonderful results. Also, the little girl at the center of Natural Sciences (Cinecias naturales) was desperately seeking for her father, whom she has never seen before. Throughout the trip, the film showed the arc of her growing up process very vividly. Not just the girl, but the teacher who accompanies her is forced to confront her own world. The moment when the two women, far apart in age, unite profoundly is very dramatic. Above all, the performance of the little girl is truly incredible.

Speaking of performances, the leading actor in The Mute (El mudo), Fernando Bacilio, is outstanding (he won Best Actor award at the festival), but I would also like to praise the young actors and actresses seen in other films. The Way He Looks (Hole eu quero voltar sozinho), the Brazilian film that portrays a complex everyday relationship among three teenagers in Brazil, catches young the hearts’ vortex and confusion in the face of first love. The story itself is not a fresh one, and it reminds me of Japanese gay masterpiece Like Grains of Sand. On the other hand, compared with other nominees, this film is very true to the emotions inherent in story, which makes it very successful. Without the pure performances of its young cast, this film might have become boring. In addition, it’s important to note that this film had brought the biggest enthusiasm to general audience in Cartagena. I am not surprised that The Way He Looks won the FIPRESCI Prize at the Panorama section at Berlinale 2014. I was also strongly impressed with the strong performances of the leading actor of The Third Side of the River (La tercera orilla) and Bad Hair (Pelo malo). They achieved success in expressing the subtle inner emotions of each character.

Two elements — delicate performances of young actors and sophisticated cinematography — made some marvelous chemistry occurr in Club Sandwich. A Mexican director Fernando Eimbcke tries to convey typical adolescent confusion about sex (what complicates matters is that the relationship between mother and son in the film seems a touch incestuous). And while some members of the audience must expect the story to go in the direction of François Ozon’s cinema, the director is less interested in dangerous liaisons, than a kind of intoxication brought on by minimum of drama and dialogue. This unique style was one of “must sees” of the festival.

As a matter of fact, the storytelling of some competition films was lacking in parts. Still, every time I walked out of the theatre, I felt like I was awakening from the wonderland of South America, with a little dizziness added by the strong sunlight pouring onto this beautiful town. This is the significant charm of the Cartagena festival.

Edited by Michal Oleszczyk