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 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.