To Kill a Man: Sundance Review

To kill a man Sundance Film Still - H 2014

To kill a man Sundance Film Still - H 2014

A quiet drama that cares as much about familial alienation as getting away with murder.

Alejandro Fernandez Almendras retells a true story of last-ditch self-defense.

PARK CITY, Utah -- A timid man does what he must to protect his family in Alejandro Fernandez Almendras' To Kill a Man, a story suggesting that a single act of bravery, however dramatic, is rarely enough to change a life for the better. Based on a true story and refusing to suggest it understands the inner life of its emotionally opaque protagonist, the Chilean film has an arresting starkness but is probably not grabby enough to make much of a splash in American art houses.

Daniel Candia plays Jorge, a caretaker at a coastal forest preserve who lives in town with wife Marta (Alejandra Yanez) and two children. When he is mugged by local thugs who make a point of humiliating him first, his son gets himself shot trying to retrieve the diabetes kit the thieves took. Lead hood Kalule (Daniel Antivilo) is eventually convicted of the shooting, surely thanks to Jorge's testimony, but Jorge's wife still holds him responsible. If you were a man, she seems to say with her actions, our son would be safe.

Two years later, the couple is divorced, and a freshly released Kalule is out for revenge: making threatening phone calls, pelting the family home with stones and terrorizing the children. Jorge uses every legal resource available to get him arrested, even going to a prosecutor's home on a weekend night, but is again ineffectual. That's when he gets the shotgun.

The film's gripping centerpiece depicts a reckless but clever ambush in which Jorge gets his tormenter trapped inside a refrigerated truck. In a film with minimal dialogue and curtains-drawn emotions, Antivilo's performance in this scene (more heard, through the truck's closed doors, than seen) is especially memorable: At the mercy of the man he has belittled and stalked, Kalule pleads for his life, then threatens to kill Jorge, alternating approaches until pleas and insults blend together in a desperate babble. As the title promises, Jorge follows through on his plan.

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But the planning seems to end with removing the hazard from his estranged family members' lives. Going back to visit them, he's unable to tell them how he knows Kalule will never bother them again; he remains an emasculated outsider. His attempts to hide the corpse are laughable, all but ensuring he'll eventually be caught. Candia keeps a poker face throughout, never allowing the film to exploit the suspense of a police investigation (not that this is what Almendras has in mind). The film seems to agree that there's something pathetic about this man, whose life seems little more than a job and the basic obligations of parenthood.

Almendras and DP Inti Briones find numerous small ways to emphasize their protagonist's isolation from those around him. Pablo Vergara's score, heavy on eerie, foghorn-like woodwinds, deepens the foreboding mood considerably.

Production company: El Remanso

Cast: Daniel Candia, Daniel Antivilo, Alejandra Yanez, Ariel Mateluna

Director-screenwriter: Alejandro Fernandez Almendras

Producers: Eduardo Villalobos, Guillaume De Seille

Director of photography: Inti Briones

Music: Pablo Vergara

Production designer: Daniela Lopez

Editors: Alejandro Fernandez Almendras, Soledad Salfate

Sales: Vicente Canales, Film Factory

No rating, 81 minutes