LGBT Films: Francis Lee’s God’s Own Country and Jayro Bustamante’s Tremors (Temblores)

God’s Own Country (image from Indiewire)

At first glance, he might not be much of anything. Living in complete isolation in the Yorkshire area, Johnny (Josh O’Connor) simply exists: he toils day and night in his family’s farm while his father (Ian Hart) constantly puts him down while his mother (Gemma Jones) gives little warmth. A life that seems to be headed to oblivion, Johnny truly has no friends, he looks perpetually sullen, is given to drink in excess, and enjoys casual sex with anonymous men to let the tension stemming from loneliness go, if at all, for a time. That is, until a stroke debilitates his father, rendering Johnny as temporary head of the house. However, Johnny is unable to run the farm on his own and hires Gheorghe (Alex Secareanu), a Romanian migrant to lend some much-needed help.

At first, it doesn’t seem as though Johnny and Gheorghe would have anything in common; nothing in their characters suggests otherwise except for a few cursory looks both throw at each other from time to time. However, Johnny’s pent-up anger at everything lands a few times on Gheorghe when he calls Gheorghe a gypsy. Gheorghe gives Johnny a warning sign not to call him that. Johnny, seeing that the guy he hired has somehow threatened his own masculinity, lashes out, and it’s not long before Lee flips the scene on the audience and reveals a moment of unbelievable sexuality, raw and dirty and completely animalistic as anything this way from persephone essay get perscription for viagra scottsdale az cialis monsey viagra 100mg image go go here follow canadian pharmacy prednisone no prescription best website to buy a research paper paper writers difference between personal essay and research papers how to say self starter in resume declaration of authenticity dissertation faut il avoir une ordonnance pour du viagra click is revatio cheaper than viagra science article review format case study writing where to buy dissertation paper sample thesis on courseware career report essays illustration essay on the neglect of the elderly sample essay college application college essay writing service review follow urban legends essay Brokeback Mountain.

However, it would be unfair to compare God’s Own Country with And Lee’s powerful 2005 drama, and the comparisons will and have been made by reason of theme. The men initiate a tentative bonding that soon becomes much more than that — you literally see them falling in love onscreen as they continue to work in near-complete isolation. Lee wisely avoids bringing in any obvious contrivances to his story — there are no suspicious girlfriends, no family confrontations (it is implied Johnny’s parents are mutely aware of Johnny’s sexuality, which may be a reason for Johnny’s almost adversarial relationship with his father) — because God’s Own Country as a romance develops on its own, naturally, and is anchored by its two leads who turn in sharp performances as tonal opposites who simply complement each other in every shape and form.

I am going to say that this is the kind of movie audiences need to see in order to capture the beauty of men falling in love. Too often gay dramas are soaked with plastic models substituting chiseled features for lack of acting, and cardboard storylines, which is why I tend to stay away from gay films (with some exceptions, this being one of them). What I wish Lee would not have done was to diminish his already potent character study and love story with the slur word “faggot” framed by the equally offensive “freak”. Was it necessary? Yes, sometimes people in intimate relationships call themselves by choice names, but I think that by now it’s time to leave the F word behind for once and for all. Too many men have unjustly died for it. [A-]

Now, if I was shocked by the use of the F word in God’s Own Country, nothing could prepare me for the nightmare unleashed by Guatemalan director Jayro Bustamante, who just released La Llorona (available on Shudder). Tremors (Temblores) is a surrealistic nightmare with strong Yorgos Lanthimos sensibilities (think Dogtooth). Bustamante starts his movie with the portent of something horrible that has befallen a wealthy Guatemalan family. The hero (or anti-hero) Pablo (Juan Pablo Olyslager) comes home to a house in emotional turmoil. We don’t quite know what exactly is the problem but it soon becomes clear. Pablo’s secret — that is a gay man — has come home to roost. Needless to say, the family is shocked to the core, and Bustamante punctuates this with a carefully placed earthquake in the middle of the scene.

For worldly audiences, this will almost come as a comedy not aware of itself — really? A house in complete disarray praying to God for a miracle, for a cure for the son’s illness? A mother telling her son, on the way to church, to lower his head so he can hide his shame in 2019? At times I had to hold myself to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating. However, having lived in the Dominican Republic, Tremors‘ almost telenovela-like dramatics involving a viciously accusatory family who cast more stones than Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery and which comes short of holding pitchforks are quite real. The reality in many Latin American countries that are 98% religious and treat their religiosity as an Iron Rule Never to be Questioned, Period rings true if at times it is so shocking one almost can’t believe the insanity unfold. Pablo, already a weakened man due to his backward-thinking society really hasn’t anywhere to go but back to the enforced mafia that is his family, and all attempts to live a normal life come to a crashing halt even before they can begin, proper.

It is a scenario that Bustamante highlights in presenting the gay community as completely marginalized, people barely surviving, their voices unheard, self-aware and woke in a nation that blatantly hates them for being them. The one sympathetic. character is Pablo’s long-suffering boyfriend (Mauricio Armas) who already knows who he is and is okay with it. It’s a shame that Pablo doesn’t, and has to basically submit to the demands of cult-like devotion to a religious life-coach (Sabrina de la Hoz) who arrives with shades of The Handmaids Tale’s Aunt Lydia. My one complaint is that Bustamante did not include some note at the start of the film that would at least soften the blow of what I was about to see. I avoid gay-negative films in general because there is too much negativity in the world already. I cannot recommend this one to anyone who has undergone gay conversion therapy because frankly, Tremors is torture to watch. [B]

Tremors is available on Dekkoo, while God’s Own Country is on Amazon Prime.

Seen at the AFI LatinX Film Festival

Poster for La Llorona, image from Movie Plus

Land of Ashes

Sofia Quiros’ heartbreaking movie Land of Ashes (Cenizas Negras) is a unique coming-of-age story in which Selva (Smachleen Gutierrez), a preteen girl who happily lives with her grandparents gets a rude awakening when her grandmother Elena (Hortensia Smith) goes missing after a communal party. Up until then life for Selva might not be considered ideal — they live in abject poverty, but happy, and the movie establishes playful bickering between Selva and Elena as well as Elena and grandfather Tata (Humberto Samuels) that is truly affecting. Elena’s disappearance plunges Selva into her own internal world where a mysterious girl communicates with her. At the same time, Selva now must forget her own childhood and be the caregiver for Tata who seems to have stopped living and only mourns the loss of Elena. Sofia Quiro’s movie is intoxicating, a glimpse into a life untouched by modern appliances or technology. We only get that the story is taking place in today’s day through music, which plays often. Ultimately, the tragedy lurking just off-screen is the fact that one day Selva’s world will be a thing of the past, and her only chances at survival is an accelerated induction into forced adulthood through practical and supernatural means. Smachleen Gutierrez’s performance is revelatory in its layers of wisdom that she reflects with her eyes; her character suggests pain and terror for the future, but the courage to confront whatever may lay ahead. [B+]

Once Upon a Time in Venezuela

If ever there was a tragedy that needed to be told it would have to be Venezuela’s fall into complete despair and abandonment. Anabel Rodriguez Rios tells of her country’s fall through her documentary feature Once Upon a Time in Venezuela, filmed through a period of six years. In it, she focuses on the micro-universe of El Congo Mirador, a fishing paradise located on the southern tip of Lake Maracaibo, once a community that thrived and offered spectacular lightning shows that have through sedimentation and governmental neglect been rendered abandoned and overtaken by the jungle. Rios’ story largely focuses on the town itself, its inhabitants, as they go through life living in their shacks that they’ve erected on stilts at the mouth of the Zulia River. During this time we encounter Natalie, a young idealistic teacher, and what seems to be the Queen Bee of Congo Mirador’s society, Tamara. Both women are opponents by politics — Tamara is the ultimate Chavista supporter, while Natalie is not. Tamara would prefer that Natalie teach elsewhere; Natalie discusses her victimization under the current administration but her hopes that this place will continue to exist. While the women never explicitly come to a contentious encounter, both storylines remain firmly at the mercy of Venezuelan politics. Tamara lives and acts under the belief that by buying votes she can secure her party’s stay in power and guarantee her own security in the land she has come to identify with. What she isn’t aware of, and will find out in the worst of ways, is that she is just as much a victim of politics like everyone else. Rodriguez Rios’ movie unfolds like the inevitable and implacable fall of a country that once had it all, and it is a shame that while people lament the passing of time, those who have the power to make a difference simply have chosen to look the other way. [B]

Blanco en Blanco

Alfredo Castro and Esther Vega in Blanco en Blanco.

Welcome to the ultimate No Man’s Land, located at the bottom of the world, in which if you are a landowner with money the place is yours to conquer at your own will and no one to stop you. Thèo Court’s White on White (Blanco en Blanco) is the chilling story of such a man, Mr. Porter (never seen) who has hired Pedro, a photographer to take a picture of his bride to be Sara (Esther Vega), a girl not even 15. Entranced by the girl Pedro (Alfredo Castro) makes some rather disturbing requests to enhance the girl’s beauty through his lens. While preparations for the wedding continue, Pedro progressively becomes involved as an observer to the atrocities that settlers committed against the Selk’nam people, an indigenous tribe that Porter has decided to eliminate for her own reasons involving having pure control of the land and its riches.

It would be a lie to say that White on White has anything that resembles a resolution because it essentially is a headlong dive into pure lawlessness. Court has framed his movie to look like there is essentially no escape from this God-forsaken place that only harbors greedy killers and victimized indigenous people. By adding the victimization of two women — an older one, the housekeeper Aurora (Lola Rubio) already seems to have gone past any hope for herself — but also the aforementioned Esther who doesn’t even speak except for one scene where she utters precisely one line. Court’s movie is at times gorgeous in its muted, wintry palette, and repellent by the humans that inhabit it — particularly Castro who seems suited to play these morally rotten characters. White on White might come across a bit too nihilistic for viewers but it remains firmly entrenched in actual events that mark yet another forgotten chapter of the evil that men do to others, especially when they arrive from foreign lands. [B+]


Before you groan, consider giving this short little horror nasty a look when Netflix or Shudder takes ownership of it. [If it means anything there is a Netflix movie in the works, so that tells you this isn’t a clunker.] Hugo Cardozo’s Morgue is a regurgitation of everything you’ve seen involving the main character who has to spend the night alone where things go bump in the night. This time, it’s David (Pablo Martinez), a security guard who works at a morgue. An argument with a girlfriend sends David hitting a cyclist on the way to work, but because he panics, he doesn’t report the incident. Once at work, things will not just go bump in the night but he will literally begin seeing the craziest visions come from Hell and will wonder if he in fact has gone batshit or what.

For the most part, Martinez carries the entire movie on his shoulders and he delivers a solid performance equal parts unlikeable and vulnerable to forces he cannot understand. At times Cardozo makes you wonder if you are watching a mortality play of the type that Tales from the Crypt used to showcase where a character, in trying to outwit a wrong, basically dug his own grave. Cardozo prefers to then zig-zag through twists and turns and often they work, although there are times when holes are clearly visible either through the production values or simple staging. Be advised, Morgue has a vicious jump-scare that is well-earned, but its denouement will raise questions more than it answers them. All in all, this is a solid, muscular little horror movie with the dubious honor of having dethroned and out-performed It: Chapter Two in Paraguay. [B]

La Llorona

I was a bit apprehensive when I heard of a remake of the now-famous story of La Llorona (The Weeping Woman) because it seems that every year a new Llorona movie makes it to theaters, often with results so dismal one wonders why even bother tackling the monstrous character when her legend and mystery can’t be respected. However, this is Jayro Bustamante, the man who brought Ixcanul and Temblores to the silver screen. I was sure that Bustamante could bring his special touch of dread and uncomfortable narrative to the surface.

The bridge between the narratives of both Ixcanul and Temblores dovetails perfectly in La Llorona. Bustamante’s first movie focuses solely on an isolated Ixil community at the foot of the Ixcanul volcano, while Temblores took a sharp left and plunged itself and its story into the perspective of society and identity corroded by centuries of Spanish dominance, itself tainted by its strict adherence to religion which has by now been assimilated by the Ixil populace. La Llorona skillfully bridges these two cultures under the umbrella of metaphysical horror that uses genocide as a means of telling the story of the iconic, tragic character.

As in Temblores, we start with an affluent family and focus on its matriarch Carmen (Margarita Kenéfic) deep in prayer, accompanied by a group of women holding hands. Already we sense that something is amiss as the camera zooms away from the matriarch’s tortured, trance-like face. It turns out, her husband, General Enrique Monteverde (Julio Diaz) is on trial for crimes against humanity during the Civil War. During his tenure, he massacred a large chunk of the Ixil population and was complicit in the rape and murder of countless women for no other reason than to assure Spanish dominance over the land.

His crimes get a chilling recounting under the testimony of a survivor, an Ixil woman whose face we never quite see as it’s under a black veil, but whose story, which represents everyone else’s, is horrifying. Justice gets delivered, but it’s not enough, and the story pulls into second gear when the Monteverde family, which includes accusing daughter Natalia (Sabrina de la Hoz), retreats to the comfort of their home-fortress, while a mob of angry civilians surrounds the house, their claws at the ready for carnage. The staff of servants, all of Ixil origin, leave in a hurry and won’t be coaxed back. They know something is coming, and want to be as far away as they can.

That something does arrive, but its face remains invisible to the audience. La Llorona eventually does show her face, but it’s not in a jump-scare — the movie is far too intelligent for that, thank goodness — but in an event of unimaginable horror equal to that of the horror at the heart of Sophie’s Choice. By then, the entire household and its characters are on a sinking ship still trying frantically to escape, knowing full well that karmic debts are unforgiving and implacable.

Bustamante’s version will bury its claws into you and linger on — that is how deep its roots go. His version resonates, deeply, and I’ll tell you why. Anyone who has either lived through the tyranny of dictatorship, a system that gave birth, and fostered the culture of the “disappeared” will have a visceral reaction to La Llorona. Good horror — even transcendent horror if you will — has a narrative that can exist on its own without venturing into the paranormal for scares. La Llorona manages to bring new blood into a well-worn tale of a grieving mother by using genocide and the silent cry for revenge against its perpetrators. [A –]

La Llorona is available to stream on Shudder and I can’t recommend it enough.

The Mole Agent

Poster for The Mole Agent, image from Salt Lake City Film Society

Here is a documentary unlike any other. Maite Alberdi’s The Mole Agent has the look and the feel of a cozy — something straight out of Murder She Wrote minus the actual murder — with the difference that our hero is Sergio Chamy, a charming older man who gets an assignment to “infiltrate” an old peoples’ home and attempt to find out if a specific tenant is being abused. [Her daughter has come to a private investigator because of these concerns.] What Sergio finds out is less dramatic on that level, but gut-wrenching on another, and he slowly but certainly morphs from being a detective to being an angel of solace for individuals who have been forgotten by their loved ones, due to outliving them, or simply, being old and “of no use to anyone.” Alberdi’s docu-fiction is truly a revelation: funny during its early scenes when we see applicants to the position that goes to Sergio trying to operate an iPhone, but progressively more and more touching until it becomes nearly impossible to see without pausing for an emotional break. Her Mole Agent serves not only as a glimpse of what goes on inside old peoples homes but also as a reminder to please love our elderlies and treat them with the utmost respect, because no matter how senile they may be, how frail, they were an important part of our lives, and should never wind up alone, with only foggy, confused memories to keep them company. [A ]

Week One of the 58th New York Film Festival

Image from IONCinema


It never disappoints: one movie will somehow not make it through translation and will probably be seen as a director’s incursion into creating work only meant for a few instead of a larger audience. Cristi Puiu’s latest movie Malmkrog, which made its debut at the very beginning of the 58th New York Film Festival, is that movie. A 200-minute conversation, Malmkrog takes place mainly indoors and with the confines of an elegant manor house for which the movie is titled. In that manor, five upper crust individuals drag their thoughts and opinions on everything from Christianity’s stance on war to the Antichrist, all in the favor of some intellectual exercise. In this conversation, we see subtle animosities flare up, talkers attempting to one-up the other in order to dominate the table, and the possibility that the tea prepared for them might have been poisoned by an unknown servant. Progressively, as one conversation segues into another, and yet another, we do start to observe a pattern emerging. One of the women (there are three), Olga (Marina Palii), who comes across as the least intellectual of them all, tends to get prodded by her guests. Even her husband Nikolai (Frederic Schulz-Richard) at the movie’s climactic moment actively squares off with Olga, almost as if attempting to silence her simple rationale. What I was able to surmise is that in every party there is always a need to perform, to show one’s position on a topic, and that no matter how refined we may be as individuals, that need to demonstrate cultural superiority becomes unleashed at the face of a modest stance. Olga, in that respect, becomes a form of Saint Sebastian, or for the less religious, the Tess in Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery. The verbal stoning she essentially buries her until she is barely in the background, merely accepting her fate and position amongst these pseudointellectuals. Still, Malmkrog will only be for strict admirers of Puiu’s work, or those familiar with the original source material… not anyone else. [C]


Nicolas Pereda is a newcomer to me, and like most newcomers, to the art-house scene, his work announces a director who is willing to play with the very concept of narrative and what is real as opposed to what is performed. It’s an extremely short piece (although not by much; Hong Sang-too often makes 60-minute movies) but even in its brief running time, it manages to deliver some interesting scenes. Spit into two, Fauna concerns Luisa and Paco (Luisa Prado and Francisco Barreiro) en route to see her parents.

Not much happens along the way. Once there, Luisa has a conversation with her mother about a part she is rehearsing, leading to both women acting out the part in different, yet poignant ways. Paco gets invited by Luisa’s deadbeat brother Gabinio (Gabino Rodriguez) to Luisa’s father’s bar. Once there they ask Paco to reenact a scene from Narcos, a series where Paco plays out a small part. As it happens with people coming into contact with celebrities, they then ask him to pull out a part from thin air and act around it. It’s that scene that ends the sequence with a slight but plausible punchline.

The second part sees Gabino coming into the forefront the following day. He’s been reading a book, and his narration of that book builds the fantasy section of Fauna in which he, Luisa, and Paco play out the roles assigned to them in the book. Fauna, if it ever gets released in the US, might find its way into a small niche of arthouse movie lovers who upon giving Pereda’s movie a view will want to dissect it down to details. I personally see Fauna as an exercise in performance and role-play that somehow gets connected by a barely-there plot and a slight hint of sadness. [B]


It’s not an ovrerreaching statement that prison has become a modern conceptualization of slavery and does not and will not ever benefit African Americans, Garrett Bradley’s documentary focuses on Sibyl Fox Richardson, a Louisiana native who, back when she started a hih-hop clothing line with her husband Rob, made the unfortunate mistake of staging a robbery in order to support her business. The reason is never revealed, but we get the idea that the Richardsons were struggling and just didn’t know another way out. Keep in mind that this is not a country made for the struggling poor, especially those of color or a “non-White ethnicity.”

While she Sibyl took the plea, Rob did not and was sentenced to a 60-year term. During that time we meet Sibyl, who now goes by Fox Rich (as a form of honoring Rob) we get to meet her as she raises her six children and slowly rebuilds her life back together, always waiting for that day that Rob would be let out. She is allotted two visits a month, which takes a toll on her and her growing sons. Through it all, it is her strength and her faith not in the system but in her own will that keep Fox on her feet, and Bradley’s film, beat by beat, starts to reveal that what’s needed here is social justice.

Time is available on Amazon Prime and is a must-see. [A-]

Smooth Talk

If there ever was an analogy to a snake coming into the garden (and mind you, I don’t read or care for the Bible), Joyce Chopra’s Smooth Talk, based on the Joyce Carol Oates short story “Where Are you Going, Where Have You Been?” is it. It tells the story of Connie (Laura Dern), a bored, privileged, and maybe mean girl living out her days in Small Town, California. Her interests are as simple as they are pedestrian: boys, and looking pretty. Her home life is a bit more problematic as she has a rather contentious relationship with her mother (Mary Kay Place) who constantly berates Connie. In a nutshell, Connie is anxious to grow up, and her mother would rather she not (and take care of their house).

Connie will get a chance at getting her first glimpse at the real world when a stranger, Arnold Friend (Treat Williams) crosses her path. His entrance in the film comes rather late although he can be seen at the fringes of the story early on, simply observing her. When he finally arrives, he oozes a menacing sexuality that is so pregnant with the personality of a psychopath that Smooth Talk morphs into something more Gothic — closer to David Lynch’s sensibilities as a matter of fact. Arnold’s dance of anti-seduction with Connie is as tense as anything I’ve ever seen and continues for a full half an hour before it fades into the distance with Connie in tow. I can see why both writer and director chose to leave it this way; when you see Williams and Dern, both about thirty feet apart with him at the door in a suggestive pose, you realize what will have to occur so Connie can wake up. It is a devastating reality only hinted at but never shown; however, that scene alone is enough. This is a deceptive little movie that will linger on with its bad aftertaste for days, but it is worth a view for its presentation and both Dern and Williams.

Smooth Talk will come back to virtual cinemas in November, 2020. [B+]

El tango del viudo y su espejo deformante (The Tango of the Widower and its Distorting Mirror)

Valeria Sarmiento’s restoration of her husband Raul Ruiz’s experimental movie The Tango of the Widower and its Distorting Mirror is one of the strangest films I have seen this festival. The backstory of this movie goes back to when it was completed as a short in 1967 but left without a soundtrack. An exhausting procedure of voice restoration that led to the transcription of the actors’ lines then led to the hiring of voice-over actors to play the parts out. Even then, Sarmiento was left with too short a movie. However, due to having been aware that Ruiz had often wanted to make a film in reverse in order to play with the fabric of time, she made the decision to, at the film’s exact center, unspool it shot by shot, adding snippets of voice over to the existing sound, and the result is this: a movie about a haunting that doubles in on itself and reflects its haunting back to the haunted person. Much like Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, we first encounter Clemente Iriarte, the widower in question, tormented by his spectral dead wife who seems to believe she is still alive and very much in his personal space. Her haunting reaches a fever pitch until Clemente commits an act of violence against himself… from which a second Clemente emerges, one who knows the ending, but has now come with the omniscient power of self-erase it. One could easily state that the wife who emerges from the mirror could be embodied by the ghost-Clemente, but the film doesn’t give you any concise answers. The Tango of the Widower, thus, remains an interesting, intriguing incursion into surrealism in which whatever was on the other side of the looking glass was always observing the observer, and that ghost could be death itself. [B-]


Prepare to be outraged. Sam Pollard’s blistering documentary MLK/FBI paints a vivid snapshot of where we were as a nation when Martin Luther King was then considered the nation’s prime enemy, one that the FBI, headed by then J. Edgar Hoover needed to be destroyed by any means necessary.

From the Freedom of Information Act we can now get a clearer glimpse at the tactics the FBI as an agency held up to a higher standard got involved in. [Of course, they as a whole practically had a file on anyone and everyone deemed an enemy or a Communist, and Dr. King is not the only victim here but he is one of the most salient.] From Dr. King’s association with Stanley Levinson, a known Communist, Hoover’s focus on King progresses into truly frightening and frankly, disturbing territories.

Perhaps because Hoover, born and raised in the South, had never experienced a Black man who was this verbose and eloquent, and it certainly didn’t matter that King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1963. It speaks glaringly at the attitude of the times in which Blacks had still no rights other than to barely exist, so King as an icon of peace now became an icon of anarchy for the White majority who feared a revolution. This attitude was just the type of environment that Hoover and Wiliam Sullivan needed to exploit in order to disclose anything that could besmirch (assassinate) Dr. King’s character and reputation, and the lows that they stooped to will make anyone’s book boil.

Pollard’s documentary wisely treads some familiar terrain in keeping an objective point of view. It would be problematic to present Dr. King as a saint. Instead Pollard also dives into the ugly rape allegations that Dr. King participated in, but of course also adds that the agents conducting surveillance and listening in to Dr. King living his pwn life came with massive biases against blacks (a bias that still exists even today if you just turn on the news).

Suggestions are made by retired agent Charles Knox, who turns in late in the documentary, that nothing good would come of having access to these files, set to be released in seven years. I disagree: we are owed an explanation of what exactly a prestigious agency was up to. For a nation to heal it must look at its wound. To deny the infliction of such a wound — which incidentally, continued to be inflicted upon Coretta Scott King even after King’s murder in 1967, is to give in to the perpetuation of a culture that continues to glorify a police state that does nothing to protect its own and needlessly diminish those not deemed “white enough” (and by that I also include all other non-Anglo races, LGBTQ people, etc.). [A]


Bela Tarr’s Damnation should have been a noir film. The movie’s esthetics, so drenched in noir sensibilities, practically demands it. Picture this: a man lives in the middle of nowhere. His view is of buckets of coal being pulled alongside a cable, the sound they make is purely industrial. This man, hopelessly in love with a woman that does not love him although she says she does. This man is so enamored by this woman that, when offered a smuggling job in which there is money, he would rather give that opportunity to the woman’s husband in order to get him out of the way. The woman, only because there is a promise of money (and a way out of this overwhelming desolation), offers to give the man a little bit of sex. The sex, mind you, is passionless. When the husband returns with cash in hand, things go back to where they were, and the man, now alone, realizes he’s been used in the worst imaginable way. Something has to give.

If Damnation were to get the Hollywood treatment it could possibly be something straight out of Jacques Tourneur or James Cain, with gritty femme fatales betraying the poor schmoes drawn to them. Damnation, however, goes well past the narrative limitations of noir and sends Tarr’s antihero Karrer (Miklós Székely) straight into the bowels of insanity. It is a powerful glimpse into a life wasted by alcohol and despair and the lack of love, magnified by the constant presence of rain and gloom that grabs onto the narrative and never lets anyone breathe. [A]


5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)


embrace of the serpent

There are films, and then there are films. I’m sure I’m not the first to say this, but when you see movie after movie after movie, often non-stop, and then something like Embrace of the Serpent reveals itself, your eyes literally fly open. You feel as if though somehow, the fabric of the screen had somehow trickled away into dust and disclosed another world, time and place, a beckoning, living paradise drenched in wonders, adventure, and mysteries just waiting to be discovered.

Split into two timeframes — 1909 and 1940 –, Embrace of the Serpent is the story of Karamakate, the last surviving member of his own tribe, living in solitude in the Vaupes, deep in the heart of Colombia.

The first time period, 1909, has Karamakate (Nilbio Torres, a commanding, warrior presence) coming upon Theo (Jan Bijvoet), an explorer whose fallen sick, and his partner, the Westernized indian Manduca (Yauenku Migue) who asks Karamakate for help. Karamakate expresses an open distrust for Theo — after all, he is a Blanco, a white man, and they’ve been responsible for decimating his tribe. Theo expresses that he’s only searching for the yakruna, and that he can help Karamakate find remaining members of his tribe along the way.

A gradual, yet sometimes volatile relationship develops between the three men as they canoe through the river. On their way to the fabled yakruna, they come across a rubber worker who begs Manduca for death, poisonous food that Theo in his ignorance ingests, and a tribe whose leader steals Theo’s compass. Upon discovering the act, his goodbye sours; he needs the compass, but also states that these people will lose their own tradition of using the sky for location. Karamakate counters, justifiably, that knowledge shouldn’t be for a chosen few.

One of the more telling encounters is at a mission where a monk has seemingly converted young boys into the ways of the Spanish. At first fearful that the three men will raid his place, he accepts their visit. Here is where a sense of religious hypocrisy comes into the picture: later on, the men realize the monk has forbidden the boys speak their native language and whips one of them savagely. This visit will repeat itself in a moment straight out of a cult movie, when in 1940 an older Karamakate (Antonio Bolivar) and another explorer, Evan (Brionne Davis), come upon the now grown men from that mission, living under the vicious thumb of a man who believes himself to be the Christ and who’s clearly insane. It’s a perversion of the previous scene and a symbolic indication of how south things went after the Spanish conquered the new world. In eradicating most of the native culture (deemed heretic and barbaric), they plunged the remaining people into an even more savage reality, as dark as the Dark Ages, bordering on religious frenzy.

embrace of the serpent-1

And in the midst, the Maguffin of the story, the elusive yakruna, the rare pearl beckoning both Theo and Evan, both with Karamakate as a guide: withholding and willing to destroy information to preserve something pristine, but a little more giving the second time around. Perhaps the zeal of youth is to blame; who wouldn’t protect the secrets of his own civilization before allowing it to be corrupted by a society determined on imposing its stamp and stamping everything else out?

Of course, the older Karamakate has mellowed, it seems, and can now only dispense knowledge where in the past, he would have kept it for himself. Perhaps that is all he can aspire to. Embrace of the Serpent is a fascinating epic like no other, it’s its own Apocalypse Now, demonstrating the heavy load that being the sole survivor of one’s own people it can be.