Fatherhood All Over

in 36th International Festival of New Latin American Cinema, Havana

by Rui Tendinha

A neo-neo realism coming from Latin American cinema? If we look at the films chosen for the official selection in the Havana Film Festival we can think about that. There is an extreme tendency towards a radical realism in these films. The proof lies in the themes chosen by the filmmakers, with a great focus on the ones dealing with family. Father figures were the trend of the festival—strong father figures in societies torn apart by economical and social crises. For example, the father of La Tercera Orilla, by Celine Murga, stands for an idea of corruption, moral and masculine. There were other cases, like the father in Tierra en la Lengua, by Ruben Mendonza Moreno, someone who could embody a whole notion of abuse and old-fashioned ferocity mirroring the concept of Colombia, or even the father of Aire Libre, by Anahí Berneri, who kind of represents the idea of the new and modern father of the contemporary society of Argentina, but, at the same time, can forget about his son while is struggling with a personal crisis. But the most interesting father came from Chile. The average common, poor father that  Alejandro Fernández Almendras creates in his third feature, To Kill a Man (Matar a un hombre), the film who nabbed our prize. Almendras puts a placid family man into a situation we normally associate with the schoolyard: bullying. We see him dealing with a case of a menace in his run-down Chilean suburb. But what is really compelling is his obedient behavior with his wife, kids and society. Something has to change when he is forced to act violent after geting attacked by the local thug, Kalule (a striking performance from Daniel Antivilo).

Winner of a world cinema grand jury prize at Sundance, this film evokes a social nightmare where the father figure gets reinvented and squeezed. Sometimes the “genre movie” that is proposed makes a reflection on how father roles are supposed to be personified within the limits of violence. Like a social disease, like a social consequence. Almendras deals with questions like the pride and responsibility of the Latin American father. The fact that he does that with a smooth tension only makes us want to praise all the mise-en-scéne. Terrifically tense and always menacing, To Kill a Man is also an examination of our own moral creeds, especially when they are played along the perceptions of fatherhood. It is curious that everything here is based on a true story, the only change being that they were three people involved in the actual revenge crime. The director, wisely, chose to place blame on one single person and make sure the guilt was not divided and attributed to things like “he acted with others”. Basically, this is a tale that deals with passive manners, using them in contrast with stereotypes of Latino masculinity. Even at his breaking point, this father isn’t a hyper-masculine being; rather, he’s still unconfident and unsure of his actions, even when he never wants to fail in his role of the head of the family… Every little devil has the right to his own revenge…

Edited by José Teodoro