'Guilty Men' ('Pariente'): Film Review | Venice 2016

Courtesy of Venice Film Festival
Guilty of a nail-bitingly good time.

Colombian drama-thriller hybrid 'Guilty Men' from director Ivan D. Gaona is not a guilty pleasure but just a pleasure.

Guilty Men (Pariente), the impressive feature fiction debut from Colombian director Ivan D. Gaona, is set in Santander in 2005, when paramilitary groups were supposed to be disarming but new corpses show up anyway. Part of the film is a realistic drama about two men in love with the same woman but because they are both involved in illegal activities, the negative tension between them gives rise to several jungle  setpieces that are real nail-biters. Though sometimes too steeped in local intricacies to be fully intelligible for foreign viewers, Gaona’s sheer storytelling verve will have audiences worldwide hooked regardless.

This Venice Days title will have its North American premiere at Toronto and can look forward to interest from buyers interested in well-executed, noirish dramas with a genre twist.

When René (René Diaz Calderon) announces at a family gathering that he’ll marry his Mariana (Leidy Herrera) earlier than planned, the underlying message is clear: she’s pregnant. The DJ at the party, Willington (Willington Gordillo Duarte), is not only an ex of Mariana but still madly in love with her and, like when he hires musicians to serenade her beneath her window, he makes no attempt to hide it.

To complicate matters, René and Willington are both involved in some illegal business that also involves the elderly, cowboy hat-wearing Alfonso (Alfonso Lopez), who’s not afraid to use his guns, and the middle-aged pig owner, Heriberto (Heriberto Palacio). Receipts and money exchange hands at night on dirt roads in the middle of the night and the money becomes very tempting for René, who is desperately in need of cash to fund his anticipated nuptials.

There is much talk of the difference between ranchera and norteña music and how they could possibly influence people’s behavior; on TV, the demobilization of the area’s paramilitary men is extensively covered while the local police station is increasingly flooded with people reporting suspicious thefts. The exact references and details won’t necessarily all be comprehensible for non-Colombian audiences, though the film’s main narrative thrusts and the constantly shifting alliances are always clear.

When a mysterious paramilitary type on a motorbike appears, local Suetonio (Suetonio Hernandez) and romantic enemies René and Willington find themselves in trouble. Because of his helmet, the man’s identity is initially unknown, though he’s clearly up to no good. What follows is a testosterone-filled and heart-pounding game of cat and mouse in a sugarcane field that is directed with such confidence and flair that it becomes the film’s nerve-wrecking centerpiece, a nail-biting, edge-of-your-seat experience.

Its direct, you-are-there impact and accompanying visceral charge is replicated not much later in a scene featuring a mobile phone. As cleverly manipulated throughout the sequence, the lone prop becomes something that could potentially explode louder than any bomb. (That said, the final standoff and denouement are a bit underwhelming compared to these two definite highlights.)

Cinematographer Juan Camilo Paredes plays with movement and chiaroscuro lighting in his large widescreen canvas to augment the sense of uncertainty and danger, while Edson Velandia’s percussion-heavy score sets the pulses racing whenever the tension mounts. The precision work of editor Andres Porras is also key in ensuring that the audience manages to navigate this trap-filled morass of men trying to obtain the love, money or power that they seek in this forgotten corner of Colombia. One thing seems certain: You’re probably too greedy if you’re going after all three.

Production companies: La Banda del Carro Rojo, HD Cinema Colombia, 2-35 Digital, Sonata Films

Cast: Willington Gordillo Duarte, Heriberto Palacio, Rene Diaz Calderon, Alfonso Lopez, Leidy Herrera, Cristian Hernandez, Suetonio Hernandez

Writer-Director: Ivan D. Gaona

Producers: Diana Perez Mejia

Director of photography: Juan Camilo Paredes

Production designer: Juan David Bernal

Costume designer: Camilo Barreto

Editor: Andres Porras

Music: Edson Velandia

Casting: Monica Juanita Hernandes

Sales: Films Boutique

 

No rating, 115 minutes

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