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Banished (Desterrada): Cartagena Review

Cartagena Film Still - H 2014
68 Revoluciones

The Bottom Line

Stylish, visually striking parable that makes up in punchiness for what it lacks in depth and subtlety.

Venue

Cartagena Film Festival (Official Colombian, competing)

Director

Diego Guerra

Labor-of-love animated take on the impact of war on a new generation of Colombians.

In Banished, Colombian graphic artist Diego Guerra looks at the impact of  his country’s ongoing (60 years and counting) conflict on a generation who know little and care even less (at least at the start) about it. Making use of attractive, video game-inspired animation and a simple, clearly drawn narrative, the film is focused on Colombia but is also a mildly dystopian warning, set in the near future, that the best way to become a victim of politics is to turn your back on it.

Its distinctiveness, its message, and Guerra’s reputation should guarantee festival play on the Latin American circuit, with appearance at animation fests beyond also a strong possibility.

Perhaps too little context is given for what is after all a horrendously complex, ever-changing conflict. The first scene shows the blowing up of a fruit juice stand as friends Ana (voiced by Monica Chavez) and Valentina (Natalia Reyes) are chatting about Ana’s new boyfriend, photographer Flavio (Ricardo Mejia). Voice acting throughout is understated and natural.

The two girls carry on their chat, but their indifference will not last. In the scenario of Banished, Colombia’s armed conflict has moved from the country into Bogota, where Ana, Flavio and Valentina are trying to get on with their lives, but where the signs of the war are all around them – a large part of the center of Bogota is in ruins.

Ana’s father is a former member of the guerrilla, now a disenchanted university teacher, Gabriel (Hernan Mendez): he delivers what little political analysis the film offers. When the army starts rounding up new recruits, Ana’s brother Esteban (Santiago Olaya) is the first to go; he is soon followed by punk musician Camilo (Jim Munoz) and, eventually, Flavio. The later scenes shuttle between the conflict as it plays out in the city and the country and domestic scenes showing conversations between people who can't understand how all this came to happen and can't see how to stop it: “We didn’t start this war,” murmurs Ana. “It’s not us who should finish it.”

Banished doesn’t go into the world of the poor; its main interest is in how the conflict – a conflicts whose causes are at best distant and at worst unknown for its arty, student young protagonists – could come to affect the lives of the kinds of people who are likely to go and see the movie.

The dialogue, characters, nor psychology remain firmly comic book, and the moral debate lacks nuance: Banished has little to teach about conflict and human nature other than that young people who choose to ignore politics are turning themselves into the pawns of power. A cliche it may be, but it’s one which always bears restating.

The look of Banished has been calculated to appeal to the latest video game generation. Stylized, hand-painted, anime-like visuals are all about stark, clean lines and muted colors, with more attention given to backgrounds than to character physique, which is simple and effective. (Bar none, all the younger characters are sleek and sexy.)

But just when the viewer is wondering why this project couldn’t have been done as live action, some striking impressive scene leaps out from the screen – Ana’s disturbing vision of sharks swimming past her apartment window, for example, an aerial view of Bogota with fighter jets flying below, or twinkling nocturnal cityscapes, reduced by Guerra to little more than black and white blocks. The modeling of the Colombian capital was done in 3D and is impressively faithful, with the film incorporating several of Bogota’s classic buildings and one of two bus route numbers, making Banished a homage to the city as much as a social critique. Colombian pop songs, some hard-hitting and some lyrical, are regularly incorporated, mostly to good effect.

Production: 68 Revoluciones
Cast: Monica Chavez, Ricardo Mejia, Natalia Reyes, Hernan Mendez
Jim Munoz,  Isabella Gomez
Director, screenwriter. Producer, animation: Diego Guerra
Executive producer: Luis Antonio Guerra
Director of photography: Luis Antonio Guerra
Editor: Andres Porras
Music: Diego Garcia, Amadeo Gonzalez, RAZA, OK Go
Sound: Alejandro Jaramillo, Camilo Cruz Tapia
Sales: 68 Revoluciones
No rating, 79 minutes