Letters from War

by Christopher Gordon


On the weekend of March 4th, I met some volunteers in Cartagena for FICCI: Festival Internacional Cine Colombia de Indias. The first movie of the weekend that we watched was Cartas da Guerra, a 2016 Portuguese film directed by Ivo M. Ferreira. Shot in black-and-white, the film details the life of a combat medic stationed in Angola in 1971, which was then Portuguese East Africa. The plot revolves around the love letters between him and his pregnant wife who is still in Portugal. What begins as a sweet love story inevitably drags on for 105 minutes, detailing the realistic but mundane day-to-day life of war.

Boi Neon (Neon Bull)

by Alex Lerma


Brazilian writer-director Gabriel Mascaro has a second crack at it with this fictional feature; his directorial debut was Ventos de Agosto (August Winds). When Gabriel isn’t directing films he spends his time perusing a career as a visual artist, which is makes itself apparent in his film, Neon Bull. (more on this to follow) The film unfolds within the world of the vaquejada, a recreational-competitive activity practiced in northeast Brazil. “ What is vaquejada?” you might ask yourself. The closet thing I can compare it to is a mix between the rodeo and American football, with a bull and two horses.

Iremar is the main character and the film is viewed through his eyes. He is a handsome cowboy who cares for and prepares the bulls for the events. Although Iremar is a roughneck who isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty, his real dream is to design outfits for exotic dancers. During his spare time, he sketches the outfits and sews them together. Galega is a young mother and a dancer who wears Iremar’s exotic inventions during her performances. She drives and repairs the truck that transports the bulls from town to town, which also serves as a home for Galega, Irema and the rest of her nomadic troupe.

Remember how I mentioned that Mascaro is a visual artist on the side? Watching this movie it’s apparent. At times Mascaro would rather have long drawn out scenes that are visually appealing, but they don’t really help carry the plot. The characters are given no real depth and the narrative has zero dramatic tension and development. On the positive side, the audience gets to see into the back-country reality of Brazil that most of us never knew about.

While checking out Rotten Tomatoes, (which is the most credible movie critic review source behind Siskel and Ebert in my humble opinion) I was surprised to find out that Neon Bull had a 94% rating on the Tomatometer.  The movie critics and the general audience thought it was really good. It won two Toronto Film Festival Awards and swept the Rio Film Festival Awards, going home with four awards. For those of you who trust the Tomatometer and are curious to watch this flick, it’s my duty to forewarn you not to watch it on a first date and please don’t take the kids. It has a long intense sex scene between Iremar and a heavily pregnant woman on top of a sewing machine.  It also has a bestiality type scene with a hose, which will make you want to apply some eye drops afterward. Again, it’s all for the sake of “art”.

Lets Do The Time Warp Again: A Movie Review of the Cult Classic

by Barbara Alvarado


As many of my close friends know, I love all things camp*. The campier the better is how I see it. So it was much to my FICCI cohort’s surprise, as well as my own, when I announced that I had never seen Rocky Horror Picture Show in its entirety. I know, but luckily for me that was about to change. FICCI was going to have a special midnight screening of the cult classic and I wasn’t going to miss it. At exactly 11:45pm I gathered up my fellow virgins*, (at least the ones I could convince to watch such a late screening) and off we went to take that “special journey.”

My conclusion? Rocky Horror was everything I hoped it would be and more. It is a great example of a film that celebrates the weird, the androgynous, the camp, the over-the-top. The film encompasses a 1970s glam-rock world of androgyny, with characters that are more than eccentric (i.e. Tim Curry as the amazing Dr. Frank-N-Furter). It is bursting with elaborate dance sequences, kitschy costumes, and catchy songs. It’s a gender-bending party meant to mock the science fiction genre, and get you giggling and singing along.


So as my new favorite movie heroine, Dr. Frank-N-Furter, famously says “Give yourself over to absolute pleasure. Swim the warm waters of sins of the flesh – erotic nightmares beyond any measure, and sensual daydreams to treasure forever” and go watch Rocky Horror Picture Show next time it’s playing at a theater near you. (Or you can just stream it)

*camp: being so extreme that it has an amusing and sometimes perversely sophisticated appeal. Over the top and farcical, it endeavors for satire. –Urban Dictionary.com

*virgin: anybody who has never seen The Rocky Horror Picture Show (virgin viewing – seeing RHPS for the first time). –rockyhorror.com

El Abrazo de la Serpiente

by Lindsay Copelly


El Abrazo de la Serpiente  (Embrace of the Serpent) is directed and written by Colombian native, Ciro Alfonso Guerra. It won several awards, a few of which were:  the Art Cinema Award at the Cannes Film Festival and Best International Film at the Costa Rican International Film Festival (Thanks wikipedia).  The most recognized acknowledgement however, was its nomination for the 88th Academy Awards, making it the first Colombian film to be nominated.

The semi-fictionalized film encapsulates a very different story that is not as glamorized as its Colombian drug trafficking history. Karamakate is a reluctant shaman who lives in the Amazon who is dealing with the imapcts of imperialism and cultural decay.  Alone, he believes he is the last of his tribe. The young Shamna guide is suspicious of Theodore (Jan Bijvoet) and his apprentice. Even though he is reluctant, he decides to help them in the search for a plant called the yakarana flower.

Theodore in return promises to reunite Karamakate with others who belong to his tribe. During their quest for the yakarana flower, we are taken through the beautiful Amazon and also see the effects of European colonization. Theodore does not fulfill his mission. The task is later taken up by Evans (Brionne Davis), a western botanist who hopes to find this rare flower. An older Karamakate (Antonio Bolivar) once again embarks on the unfinished mission in search of the yakarana flower.

El Abrazo de la Serpiente retells a story of what occurred many years ago, while shedding light to reality and the effects that pharmaceutical research has had on the Amazon. I enjoyed watching it and having the opportunity to mark it off my must-watch movie list.  It was also the best film I saw at the FICCI film festival. I recommend Embrace of the Serpent. It is a must-see.

Oscuro Animal

by Jimmy Everett


Director Felipe Guerrero’s Oscuro Animal is a captivating tale of survival told through the perspectives of three different Colombian women whom are faced with life-threatening situations. The director chose to tell this story with literally no dialogue. Despite the lack of voices, the beautiful cinematography of the film is able to capture the attention of the viewer and amazing performances by the actresses are able to sustain it. The film is artfully able to contrast the breathtaking beauty of the Colombian countryside with the heart-stopping sadness of the characters’ circumstances. Even if the actresses don’t speak, the film speaks to us as viewers and shows us the triumph of the human spirit and the ability for a group of powerful women to adapt and survive despite all odds. Although the film may seem slow-paced to some viewers, I would definitely recommend it to anyone who appreciates aesthetically pleasing shots and an inspiring story.

Flash Gordon

by Caleb Reed


Last year I tried to see artsy, “important,” or good films and I ended up seeing one of the worst films of my life. (It was in Ukrainian sign language with no subtitles…) This year I said, “Screw that!” and settled on the novel idea to only watch films that were, you know, entertaining. There are few movies more entertaining than Flash Gordon!

For those of you who don’t know, Flash Gordon is a campy 1980 film (if you can call it that) that’s a sort of Labyrinth meets Power Rangers affair starring Sam J. Jones (who?) as a hunky New York Jets quarterback-turned-universe-saving-hero, naturally. It is amazingly bad. It’s over-acted, full of cheesy one-liners, uses cardboard props, and the all protagonist’s lines are dubbed by another actor. To top it all off, the entire soundtrack (which is basically one song on repeat) was “composed” by none other than Queen. Here’s the thing, it’s badness is actually its genius, and for that, it’s quite fun.

It would be one thing if the movie was merely a low-budget attempt at doing something “important” while not actually pulling it off, but that’s not what this movie is at all. This movie is deliberately bad and it’s not trying to be important. Rather, it’s a nearly spot-on remake of a 1936 film of the same name, which is originally based on a 1934 comic strip. As such, it achieves its goal perfectly, reflecting both the style and worldview of the original. The movie pulls this off by featuring a number of well-known actors, including Timothy Dalton, Max von Sydow, and Topol (from Fiddler on the Roof), who accurately portrays the 1930s acting style while infusing it with a little 80s charm. Add some lasers, Airplane-style innuendos, puppets, a “let’s all just get along” message, and Queen and you get something fantastic. I liken this movie to costume jewelry; it’s not worth much, but is absolutely great for a party!

A Look at Aquí No Ha Pasado Nada

by Kathleen Rodriguez


The lifestyles of the rich and famous are examined from an interesting perspective in the Chilean film Aquí No Ha Pasado Nada (Much Ado About Nothing), which debuted at the Cartagena film festival in March. Based on a true story, and directed by Alejandro Fernández Almendras, Aquí No Ha Pasado Nada follows the story of Vicente (played by Augustín Silva), a listless and droopy young man who spends more time wandering around the beach and partying than anything else.

The slow-moving pace of the movie starts to pick up when Vicente meets some new friends. They spend the night driving around the city and drinking as much as their bodies will allow. They all behave with a reckless indifference towards everyone they come across.  Their indifference turns fatal when, in a drunken stupor, one of Vicente’s friends runs over an innocent man walking along the road.

The mood of the film shifts when Vicente is taken to a police station and accused of murder.  The friend responsible for the death comes from a wealthy, influential family, and as events unfold, we see that his money and political connections make it easy to pass the blame and pin the crime on an unsuspecting Vicente.

It is here that Almendras presents us with some moral ambiguity: Should we feel sorry for poor Vicente? While it’s obvious that he’s been unjustly accused, the problem is that his detached, emotionless attitude makes it hard to sympathize with him.  Almendras’s long, drawn-out shots of his carefree behavior don’t help. He infuriates us. He takes no responsibility and no initiative, but instead chooses to play the victim by whining in an almost tantrum-like manner.

Meanwhile the victim, Hernán Canales, remains completely invisible. Almendras develops the plot solely around Vicente, and we never see the face of the victim or his family. We never even learn his name. The effect of this is that as an audience, we don’t feel the impact of grief, and his invisibility causes us to forget our indignation at his wrongful death.

Aside from some superfluous sex scenes, Almendras does a satisfactory job of developing the story. We start to feel the weight and shame of a justice system poisoned by corruption, and dictated by wealth and position. The truth of the real story only makes that weight heavier. We are forced to examine the consequences of apathy. Its apathy that’s symptomatic of a generation of young adults who have never been held accountable, and who have their problems solved by their intervening rich mommies and daddies. Almendras crafts a compelling social commentary that raises the issue of justice for the poor, the impunity of the rich, and the ease with which as a society, we tend to move on and forget about both.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s