Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Wed Mar 21, 2012 9:28 am 
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Amazonian Bresson

Porfirio is a work made in the often powerful new Latin American "slow film" vein, and this time the authentic people and settings are wielded by Brazilian-born director Alejandro Landes in reference to a dramatic Colombian crime story he found in the newspaper. The details of the crime are withheld till near the end. In fact they are too much and too long withheld to integrate drawn-out quotidian prelude and final crime into a coherent whole. If Landes had achieved that integration, the result might have been something brilliant and impressive. Instead, the film is best at depicting the world of a handicapped person with vivid physicality, as a fresh mixture of sensuality and grinding monotony. The dramatic finale, the crime story, merely seems tacked on. Porfirio is a first feature that is not quite a success. It nonetheless marks Landes in the view of festival organizers as a new director to watch. The film creates a monotony that has been called "Bressonian," and it may be that fans of Bresson will be its best audience outside festivals. But this is a more tropical and steamy world than Bresson's. It's filled with the noise and clatter of a Colombian Amazonian town and dominated by its mustachioed protagonist, who despite his frustrations, sometimes wears a little smile.

If we began with the headline that attracted Landes to his story, "Paralyzed Man in Diapers Hijacks Plane to Bogotá," the experience of watching the film might be different. But nothing of that is hinted at. With a documentarian's dogged loyalty to his subject, Landes lived around his provincial cast for five months before shooting the first frame. Though he revealed his decision to do so only at the last minute, he chose the actual protagonist, Porfirio Ramirez Aldana, to play himself. In the film, Porfirio's dissatisfaction comes out gradually. He seems a strong and under the circumstances cheerful man. He is cared for by his unemployed son Lissin (Jarlinsson Ramirez, playing the role of his older brother, who was Porfiriio's actual accomplice) and a young woman, Jasbleidy (Yor Jasbleidy Santos), in a shabby, noisy quarter of the tropical provincial town. Unable to move about without a hand-driven wheelchair, Porfirio sells minutes on his cell phone to locals. We learn he was paralyzed by shots from a police weapon and he seeks redress from the state and consults a lawyer, who is never available when he calls or visits. Eventually he remedies an injustice with a crime -- which we do not actually see.

The editing, excellent at showing the physicality of Porforio's robust but limited bodily existence, doesn't try to depict time through repeated daily rituals but skips around randomly. Porfirio and Lissin are shown swimming, but mostly Porfirio does not leave the house. Porfirio plays himself without any modesty, relieving himself on camera for Lissin and having real sex with Jasbleidy.

The non-intervention of Landes is not to be taken too seriously. The entire film was story-boarded and the actors were given lines to deliver. The stylistically simple but often handsome camerawork by Thimiois Bakatakis is by no means unstudied. Head-on shots follow artfully symmetrical setups and sometimes shift position multiple times during a single scene. As noted, Landes withholds much information about his protagonist. If we knew not only hints of what's to come but more of the background, that Porfirio's injury was from police crossfire and that he was once a successful landowner and rancher in Playa Rica who was forced into these straightened circumstances in the city of Florencia in a different part of the country by civil strife, we might be more sympathetic, might understand Porfirio's growing rage better. But Landes prefers to imply that rage, bit by bit, in small daily occurrences, and only hint at Porfirio's hijacking scheme.

Porfirio has the myth-making habit of making up rhymes about himself and his life. He invents some for Jasbleidy after the sex scene. At the end, after arming himself with weapons hidden in his diapers and setting out for an air trip to Bogotá with Lissin, and then a strange, ominous scene, Porfirio recites his own rhymes poetically explaining what happened. Those and the press notes confirm that he was subsequently confined by the government to his house. This restriction must have been lifted so Landes could shoot Porfirio going into town in his wheel chair to visit a law office and a bingo hall, not to mention the airport.

Alejandro Landes has an cosmopolitan background. He was born in Brazil of a Colombian mother and Ecuadorian father, educated at Brown University and later employed as a writer for the Miami Herald. His Pofirio was included in the Directors' Fortnight at Cannes 2011 and also was shown at Toronto, Pusan, Stockholm, and Miami. It was watched for this review as part of New Directors/New Fims 2012 (jointly sponsored by MoMA and the Film Society of Lincoln Center), where it will be shown to the public as follows:

Saturday, March 31st | 7:30 PM | MoMA
Sunday, April 1st | 3:00 PM | FSLC

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