Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Thu Dec 17, 2020 8:24 pm 
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Led by a fugitive

"A challenge to decipher," wrote Deborah Young in Hollywood Reporter after seeing Camilo Restrepo's Los conductos in Berlin this year. (It won the best first feature award there; it also won prizes at Mar del Plata and San Sebastián.) John Hopewell of Variety says it appeals "to a variety of visual styles [sic]," and "can be read as a portrait of the difficulties of reinsertion in a post civil conflict Colombia, or the enduring devastation of any kind of fanaticism, even when an individual has renounced its creed." More specifically, Carlos Aguilar explains in The Film Stage the basic thing: that the movie's based, but not literally or linearly, on the actual experiences of the main actor, Luis Felipe Lozano, who was involved in a cult with a young leader known as "Father" that committed crimes and induced its members to participate in them, and he escaped from it to reenter society. Restrepo himself finishes in an interview with Michael O'Keefe by adding that, on doing so, he realizes he is not going to be able to reenter society exactly, but will have to live on its margins in the corners of the Colombian city of Medellín (whose expansive cityscape is admired). We follow him, listening to his eloquent voiceover commentaries in deliciously swishy, sibilant Spanish, as he hides out in a succession of empty warehouses and makes his way through various encounters.

Los conductos is indeed hard to parse but it nonetheless satisfies for its splendidly cinematic qualities. Restrepo chose to shoot on 16mm film, for many reasons, he says, and he finds a new reason every time he is asked why. One of them is that film makes filmmaking more existential. You haven't dozens of chances to get it right. Another is that he is also a painter, with an affinity for American color field abstraction, and 16mm film's layers of color he finds satisfyingly painterly. The point is, Los Conductos is intensely visual. The protagonist, Pinky (Luis Felipe Lozano) spends a period working in a T shirt factory (a documentary passage, for Lozano-Pinky really did work at such a place) and then a small factory where film fabric is hand printed with large screens - with what appear to be graphically simplified flames of hell. From the opening titles one senses that this is a film with its own personal sense of visual design.

As Pinky, Luis Felipe Lozano is in some sense playing himself. He is a small, wiry, muscular man with bushy flowing hair and beard, Christlike in appearance and with a dare-devil madness and calm about him. He is one of the film's highest concepts.

The action begins with an electrifyingly scary motorcycle ride, with Pinky the rider: it's an amphetamine rush of energy. Los Consuctos also regularly shifts to other styles. There is a semi music video scene, showing Pinky on drugs; a comic sketch of an underground show with Pinky and one of Father's sons; expansive visual passages of devastated landscape; and a meeting with the re-embodiment of "El Desquite," the fifties Colombian criminal, bandit, sex offender and selective killer (as Spanish Wikipiedia describes him). There are parables, like that of the Lame Devil.

All this best conforms to Restrepo's sense that depictions of Latin American social and political dysfunction should unfold an "audiovisual collage," never being too specific, lest their respective countries be tied to the literal details of them forever. (I admit that I was expecting a flick about a gangster on the lam, and when I saw it wan'st going to be that, or anything very clearly definable, I was at first disappointed. But I got with the program after a while, and went with the flow. It sweeps you up.)

Los conductos is also another recent first feature shot effectively in dramatically boxy aspect ratio ( 1:33). This time the format very much helps make everything feel more hallucinatory, intense, and hyper-focused, with the surrounding scene mysterious. Restrepo avowedly doesn't work from a script or "in a narrow, linear way." Obviously he is comfortable doing that, and it's a method that allows him to throw out multiple meanings as well as change gears rapidly without losing momentum.

This is also another new independent film with great sound, which helps convey a hallucinatory intensity and sense of the outside world impinging upon Pinky as he escapes back into it, with uneven success.

Restrepo is a filmmaker whose promise was clear from three vigorous recent shorts, La impresión de una guerra (2015), a series of images of the country's state of continual conflict; Cilaos (2016), about a woman in search of her father; and La bouche (2017), about a man oscillating between appeasement and vengeance over the murder of his daughter. Vengeance is a theme of Los conductos too.

Los conductos ("The Conduits"), 70 mins. debuted at the Berlinale, where it won the best first feature award and was nominated for the Encounters award. It has played in at least 8 other festivals including San Sebastián, Mar del Plata, and theDec. 2020 delayed virtual pandemic edition of New Directors/New Films, as part of which it was screened for this review.

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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