Chocó: Berlin Film Review

Quietly feminist character-study of a downtrodden Colombian wife is well-intentioned but underdeveloped.

Jhonny Hendrix Hinestroza's low-budget Colombian film is hot, but it never quite manages to catch fire.

Revenge turns out to be a dish best served flaming hot in Chocó, a low-budget Colombian hymn to female resilience and endurance. But while its plot may pivot on a blazing conflagration, this earnest indictment of domestic violence never quite manages to catch fire and feels overstretched even at 80 minutes. Built around a quietly impressive turn from beautiful newcomer Karent Hinestroza - wife of director/co-writer Jhonny Hendrix Hinestroza - as the eponymous heroine, it's an atmospheric if slim miniature whose exotic provenance will attract some festival bookings and possibly TV play. 

Thirtyish Chocólatico - nicknamed Chocó - lives with her husband Everlides (Esteban Copete) and two small children in a rudimentary but cozy riverside hut amidst lush rural greenery. Working long hours as a gold-panner and laundrywoman, and later in an artisanal mining-operation, Chocó is the family's main bread-winner. No-good 'musician' Everlides spends most of his time in the village with his buddies - drinking, playing marimba and gambling, before stumbling home drunk to force his carnal urges on his unwilling spouse. The upcoming seventh birthday of their daughter Candelaria (Daniela Mosquera) - and her desire for a particular cake from the local tienda - ends up bringing tensions to a head, with violent consequences.

Confusingly, Hendrix Hinestroza shows us his story's climax quite early on (the hut consumed in flames) and the main bulk of the running-time comprises events over the several days leading up to this point. It's an unnecessarily complicated structure for what is essentially a simple tale in which noble Chocó has to endure the bestial attentions of both Everlides ("he doesn't beat me up that much") and tienda-owner Ramiro (Fabio Iván Restrepo) - conveyed in scenes that contain some frank, full-frontal nudity.

Hendrix Hinestroza captures the rhythms and feel of this remote, heavily-forested area, aided by Claudia Victoria's vibrantly colorful production-design and Paulo Pérez's widescreen digital cinematography. Daniel Chaves' casting is another plus - it's evident that many of the villagers on view are non-professionals playing variations of themselves (no fewer than 21 'mining women' are credited), and scenes involving children have a particularly engaging, casual immediacy.

Indeed, the vivid documentary-style elements of Chocó are the most effective, as we observe how rituals, songs, religion and community spirit help sustain people of extremely limited material means. If only a more stimulating narrative framework could have been developed to sustain it all - as it is, the action comes to a sudden halt at the 76-minute mark after Chocó takes a drastic step to end what have clearly been years of abuse. It's a jarring finale, one that sits awkwardly with what's gone before - though not unsatisfying in its dealing out of painfully just deserts.

Bottom line: Quietly feminist character-study of a downtrodden Colombian wife is well-intentioned but underdeveloped.

Venue: Berlin Film Festival (Panorama), Feb. 15, 2012.

Production company: Antorcha Films, in co-production with HD Cinema Colombia
Cast: Karent Hinestroza, Esteban Copete, Fabio Iván Restrepo, Daniela Mosquera, Sebastián Mosquera
Director: Jhonny Hendrix Hinestroza
Screenwriters: Alfonso Acosta, Jhonny Hendrix Hinestroza
Producers: Maritza Rincón, Jhonny Hendrix Hinestroza
Co-producer: Gustavo Torres Gil
Director of photography: Paulo Pérez
Art director: Claudia Victoria
Costumes: Juan Bernardo Enríquez
Editor: Mauricio Vergara
Music: Esteban Copete
Sales Agent: Antorcha Films, Cali, Colombia
No rating, 80 minutes.  

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