‘Bastards y Diablos’: LAFF Review

Peter Grigsby
A vibrantly unpredictable, emotionally charged road trip.

Traveling through Colombia, estranged half-brothers confront each other, themselves and the world that shaped their unconventional father.

Bastards y Diablos, a U.S. indie shot in Colombia, combines two familiar setups — adult children dealing with a parent’s death and the road trip as self-discovery — to tell a vividly original story. The bilingual feature, which had its world premiere at the Los Angeles Film Festival, closely follows a couple of half-brothers as they travel through their father’s country to scatter his ashes. Though they move between cultures with a certain ease, the line that separates their formative experiences proves the toughest border to navigate.

Working with a bare-bones crew, director A.D. Freese captures the journey with a documentary immediacy and a sure grasp of the dynamic emotional depths in Andrew Perez’s sharp screenplay.

Perez plays Ed Rojas, younger half-sibling to Dion (Dillon Porter). The actors effortlessly convey the blood connection but also the years-long gap that makes the men almost strangers when they’re summoned to Colombia for their father’s funeral.

Ed, the less self-assured of the two, is also the one who's somewhat acquainted with Colombia, while Dion was raised entirely in the States. Ed tries to bridge the divide with awkward small talk at the airport. Dion counters by revealing his resentment and feelings of paternal deprivation before turning on his usual charismatic swagger.

The film, too, moves back and forth, traversing and ultimately entwining two time periods. In the main action, the brothers travel by bus to locations that include Bogota, Medellin, Cali, Cartagena and Santa Marta. The map of sorts that guides them is a collection of snapshots their father left them, complete with handwritten and sometimes enigmatic instructions. In flashbacks, their father, Gabriel (Sebas Eslava), experiences the highs and lows of first love with the spirited Bruni (Juanita Arias). It’s easy to see both his sons in this dashing younger self, hard-drinking (he would die of cirrhosis), playful and adventurous, with intimations of self-doubt.

The somewhat heavy-handed poeticism of Gabriel’s voiceover commentary, delivered in the rich baritone of J.B. Blanc, takes some getting used to. With DP Peter Grigsby’s visuals as strong and evocative as they are, the narration could be pared down in some sequences. But finally Gabriel’s remarks make sense as the words of a man who’s facing the end of his life, taking stock and addressing his children.

Visits with relatives and friends help to bring the never-married Gabriel into focus, in ways that avoid pat drama and are fully alive in the moment. A childlike aunt’s reminiscences take a serious turn, and in a darkly comic moment that’s deftly shot and played, Ed and Dion bunglingly deliver the news of their father’s death to the love of his life (Brunhilde Otto).

Whether Dion and Ed are befriending a garrulous middle-aged American, picking up local women at a bar, soaking in the primordial ooze of volcanic mud or exploring Zipaquira’s subterranean salt-mine cathedral, every episode of their road trip has a piercing, wild beauty, the mood of aching expansiveness enhanced by Louis Febre’s romantic score.

The simmering competitiveness between them — as primal as the vying for a father’s love and attention — roils to the surface in a dinner argument that’s an example of exceptionally fine writing and acting. As they move deeper into their travels, in search of a mysterious inheritance at the “end of the world,” the men’s exploits parallel those of the young Gabriel. Porter embodies the recklessness and the resilience of Dion, who finds himself stranded much as his father once did (“I was the only one who knew where I was”). In Ed’s involvement with Bruni’s daughter (Constanza Marek Otto), Perez captures another type of emotional edge, less electrifying than Dion’s experience but potentially as life-changing. 

An early sequence zeros in on a poet cousin (an extraordinary Rubén Arciniegas), who explains to Ed why he’d never take pharmaceutical drugs to control his anxiety. The world, he says, is terrible. And beautiful. He wants to feel it all, unfiltered. He has the air of madness, and also of breathtaking vitality. That passionate intensity defines Bastards y Diablos, a film whose every scene embraces darkness and light.

Production company: Pico y Placa
Cast: Dillon Porter, Andrew Perez, Sebas Eslava, Juanita Arias, Brunhilde Otto, Constanza Marek Otto, Rubén Arciniegas
Director: A.D. Freese
Screenwriter: Andrew Perez
Producers: Andrew Perez, A.D. Freese, Dillon Porter, Peter Grigsby, Eric G. Johnson, Joe Milner
Executive producers: Andrew Perez, Dillon Porter
Director of photography: Peter Grigsby
Editor: A.D. Freese
Composer: Louis Febre

No rating, 98 minutes

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