Crab Trap -- Film Review

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BERLIN -- An atmospheric blend of documentary and a slight excuse for a story, "Crab Trap" succeeds in its delicate task of depicting life in an isolated jungle village on Colombia's Pacific coast in full respect for the indigenous culture. This likable, meandering, uneventful film, a first feature by Colombian director Oscar Ruiz Navia, won the special jury prize in Havana and is launched on a busy career at festivals, like Berlin's Forum, where it will find its main audiences.

The strongly foregrounded characters parachute viewers into the remote village of La Barre, sandwiched between jungle and ocean. The inhabitants are all of African descent except for Paisa (Jaime Andres Castano), a sinister figure of modernity who blasts dance music 24/7 over giant loudspeakers in preparation for opening a beach resort.
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Into this troubled tropical paradise arrives Daniel (Rodrigo Velez), a mysterious white interloper whose shaven head and sensitive features recall a Buddhist monk or maybe a street mime. A young man of few words, he has only enough money to hire a boat for an unknown destination. But the fishing boats aren't due back for a week and, while he waits, he arranges to sleep in a hammock offered by Cerebro (Arnobio Salazar Rivas), a nature-loving community leader and the bitter antagonist of Paisa's will to modernize.

Most of the film takes place as a series of encounters between Daniel and an enterprising little girl, Lucia, who has a crab trap and wants him to "buy lunch" from her mother. Dire economic straits force the villagers to get by any way they can, bartering anything available, including themselves.

In his first film, Ruiz Navia shows a strongly personal voice in the skillful way he uses characters to describe a particular place. The sparse dialogue is just enough to push the story forward and offer touches of gentle humor, thanks also to Velez's understated perf as the mysterious stranger in town.

The washed-out colors and wide-open compositions of the highly pictorial cinematography give the humble fishing community a quasi-mythic dimension.

Venue: Berlin International Film Festival

Production companies: Contravia Films, Diana Bustamente Escobar, Arizona Films in association with EFE-X Cine, M Films, Laboratorios Black Velvet
Cast: Rodrigo Velez, Arnobio Salazar Rivas, Jaime Andres Castano, Yisela Alvarez, Karent Hinestroza, Miguel Valoy, Israel Rivas
Director: Oscar Ruiz Navia
Screenwriter: Oscar Ruiz Navia
Producers: Diana Bustamente Escobar, Guillaume de Seille, Oscar Ruiz Navia, Gerylee Polanco
Directors of photography: Sofia Oggioni Hatty, Andres Pineda
Production designer: Marcela Gomez Montoya
Editor: Felipe Guerrero
Sales Agent: M-Appeal, Berlin
No rating, 70 minutes
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