‘Ciudad Delirio’: Montreal Review
A combination of salsa and seduction that’s swept Colombian audiences off their feet
If a machine existed that made movies, and if you typed ‘salsa’, ‘romance’ and ‘tourist’ into it, Ciudad Delirio is what would come out. Built for the pleasure of viewers who like their stories and characters uncomplicated and unchallenging in a TV soapish way, Spanish director Chus Gutierrez’s homage to the art of salsa in Cali is strongest for its vibrant music and dance sequences, bland elsewhere.
Spanish doctor Javier (Julian Villagran) is in Cali in Colombia for a conference. He’s introduced to salsa dancer Angie (Carolina Ramirez) by his friend Paloma (the wrongly under-employed Ingrid Rubio, marginal here). “Follow your instinct”, Angie instructs Javier when teaching him to dance, using a phrase the viewer will later tire of. Apparently charmed by Javier’s average looks, drunkenness and the fact that he throws up in the street, Angie sleeps with him. Any notion that it might be because he has money is never broached: this is love.
Angie leads a dance troupe, the Cali Stars, who are desperate to perform at a dance competition called Delirio (Delirium). There are some Fame-style ups and downs within the troupe, but the main focus is on the relationship between Angie and William (John Alex Castillo), her partner both professionally and personally and an obstacle to Javier and Angie. A wise old bird, Vaso de leche ("Glass of Milk," played by vet Jorge Herrera) befriends Javier too, and turns out to be Angie’s father.
One bizarre, troubling scene, looking like something produced by the marketing board, has Villagran walking in slo-mo through the streets as Colombian women of all ages smile and wave at him from the doorways. Whether it’s Javier’s fantasy or not, a new cliche of the country is being sold -- rather than shooting you dead as they used to, apparently Colombians now all smile and wave at complete strangers. But the film’s numbers in Colombia suggest that audiences have had no problem with watching themselves in colorful stereotype.
Gutierrez is known as the director of downbeat social crit items, and successfully smuggles some in here, for example in the way the script handles William’s sexism. But the way that Vaso de Leche defends Javier when one of the dancers steals his money, putting the values of a his new wealthy doctor buddy before those of an impoverished street kid, suggests that both the old guy and the script are a little confused.
Diego Fernando Jimenez lays it on too thick with the swirling circle tracking shots, but is adventurous in bringing Blanca Li and Viviana Vargas’s lively choreography intact to the screen. (For a film about dancers, though, there’s too little dancing.) The city of Cali is surprisingly not over-romanticized, and is mostly filmed with a distinctly non-tourist discretion and realism. One brief moment captures a small child dancing in a mirror, a moment of delightful spontaneity otherwise missing from this generally over-staged a film.
Production companies: 64-A Films, Film Fatal
Cast: Carolina Ramirez, Julian Villagran, Jorge Herrera, John Alex Castillo, Ingrid Rubio, Ronald Sevillano
Director: Chus Gutierrez
Screenwriters: Gutierrez, Elena Manrique
Producers: Diego F. Ramirez, Elena Manrique
Executive producers: Nancy Fernandez, Elena Manrique, Diego F. Ramirez
Director of photography: Diego Fernando Jimenez
Costume designer: Ana Maria Acosta
Editor: Ignacio Ruiz Capilla
Composer: Tao Gutierrez
Choreography: Blanca Li, Viviana Vargas
Sales: Media Luna