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I have just seen it the Venezuelan Film Festival at the National
University in San Salvador from July 4th to July 8th 2005.
The movie that takes place in the Venezuelan highlands shows how hard hard life is for poor people in a place where discrimination, injustice and corruption exist. It is a portrait of the abuses that people like Tomas and Santiago (Father and Son) suffer just because they are poor and ignorant, and how important it is human dignity beyond social or economic status. It is a story of human beings and the blind and stone-hearted people we have become because of Greed, Egoism and Materialism.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A bleak portrayal of feudalism still very much alive in the Andean
foothills in the mid 20th century. The story is set in 1948, by chance
the year of my birth, but the world there in the Venezuelan mountains
could be another planet from the sophisticated urban society into which
I made my arrival. Life is tough. It's cold, wet, and windy (and that's
when it isn't deep in snow), and the story opens with the peasant Tomás
burying his young wife Maria, watched only by son Santiago. There's
little ceremony, just a brief silent prayer and a rough wooden cross
planted on the grave. We already feel that death is a familiar
It soon becomes clear that Tomás is exploited with atrocious shabbiness by feudal landlord Don Homero, who actively encourages his sons in their brutal bullying of Santiago, and we know we are watching the recipe for a disaster about to unfold. Nevertheless we have a charming portrayal of Santiago surprised by all the emotions of the arrival of puberty, and also father and son, whose only known environment is the mountains, confronted by trying to comprehend something as totally alien to them as the sea. "Are there trees in the sea?" Santiago asks. "Yes, of course there are, but they are much smaller than the ones we have here" replies his Dad.
Into this world chances the photographer, an alien figure himself, a gringo, the one person who does not live off the land, and amidst this peasant life he is an utterly surreal character. To the locals he weaves his own brand of magic as he takes his photos of groups of them stiffly posed against his painted canvas backdrops, one of these being the raging sea. I found his entire presence to be an ambiguity, as I also found the ending. Perhaps he simply represented the outside world eventually arriving there. Or maybe it never has, and this is what the moviemaker is telling us. I don't know.
The initial still shot, prior to cutting to the earth being shovelled onto Maria's coffin, is of a fence, and to me it symbolises how Tomás and Santiago are shut away from the world outside. I'd love to see a few more reviews! Certainly very far from feelgood cinema, but very well acted by the principals, directed with sensitivity, and a worthwhile evening's movie watching. 8/10
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