'La Granja': Film Review

Courtesy of Breaking Glass Pictures
A slow-starting but effective lament.
6/9/2017

Three interconnected stories look at Puerto Rico's tough realities in Angel Manuel Soto's drama.

A subdued, distant Puerto Rican cousin to Amores Perros, Angel Manuel Soto's La Granja (The Farm), offers three related stories that look at life in an all-but-hopeless place where, as we're told from the start and shown throughout, life means little. Though made with much less cinematic flair than Alejandro González Iñárritu's 2000 breakthrough, Soto's film arrives at a moment when English-speaking America is paying more than the usual amount of attention (that is, nearly none) to its troubled territory; that should work to the advantage of the picture in its limited art house run.

The stories take place in Barrio La Esperanza, a seemingly fabricated neighborhood facing an intense crackdown on crime (the "Mano Dura," or "Hard Hand") while a fictional governor runs for re-election. News reports we hear during each of the three chapters (an early clue that they overlap in time) allude to widespread corruption, reporting that the governor's son was recently killed during organized-crime raids. Here, though, crime is mostly seen as a one-on-one affair.

Each of the narratives involves an upsetting disregard for life, but the most shocking may be the first, which initially looks like a simple account of a middle-aged midwife's loneliness. Though she has a boyfriend (we never see him, but hear on the phone as he makes excuses for his absence), Ingrid (Amneris Morales) spends her days alone, masturbating and taking one pregnancy test after another. At work, she sees junkies giving birth to babies they might easily have killed through negligence. And eventually, something snaps inside her.

Ingrid is linked very tenuously to some of the film's characters, but proves intimately connected to a man making most of their lives hard: Bearded Ruben (John Garcia) is the villain of the second piece, a mobster running a fighting ring where spectators bet on either cockfights or pre-teen boxing matches — and untalented fighters of both sorts are liable to be killed and discarded.

Last comes the closest thing the movie has to an innocent: Lucho (Henry Osso), a pudgy kid working unhappily as a drug mule, seemingly to help his ailing father. Lucho's half-sister is a junkie, her boyfriend is willing to pimp her out, and he's about to get into trouble for stealing the camera the couple uses to make sex tapes. Only slightly more animated than the mute boxer who stars in the second chapter, Lucho is a largely passive sufferer here, but may be the most likely to emerge unscathed.

Though rather relentlessly dreary at first, the picture grows more involving as it goes, with a sensitive score by Juan Covarrubias helping things along considerably. Though none of the characters offer a chance for castmembers to rise above their surroundings, the thesps are well matched to the material.

Production company: La Que te Hablé
Distributor: Breaking Glass Pictures
Cast: Henry Osso, Marcos Carlos Cintrón, Yulianna Padilla, Amneris Morales, John García, César Galíndez, José R. Rolón
Director-screenwriter: Angel Manuel Soto
Producers: Tom Davia, Adrienne Franciscus, Angel Manuel Soto
Executive producers: Santos Rivera, Luillo Ruiz, Yudal Báez
Director of photography: Sonnel Velázquez
Production designer: Joanne Tucci
Costume designer: Julia Michelle
Editors: Gabriel Coss, Angel Manuel Soto
Composer: Juan Covarrubias
Casting director: Nikki Dalmau

In Spanish
101 minutes

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