La Sirga (The Towrope): Cannes Review

 Violence creeps into a remote lakeside community in the High Andes.

The low-key Columbia suspense drama tells the story of 19-year-old Alicia, who arrives at her uncles house after war decimates her village.

CANNES - The quietly devastating effect of violent conflict on an impoverished rural community is the theme of this low-key Columbian suspense drama, which is showing in the Directors Fortnight at the Cannes Film Festival. Set in a remote lakeside village in the High Andes, La Sirga feels like a stylistic homage to the lofty European auteurs of the 1960s and 1970s. But with its glacially slow pace and wilfully elusive story, its commercial life seems likely to be mostly limited to specialist festival audiences and students of contemporary Latin America cinema.

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Fleeing from an vaguely explained war that has destroyed her village and decimated her family, 19-year-old Alicia (Joghis Seudyn Arias) arrives at the ramshackle lakeside guest house run by her middle-aged uncle Oscar (Julio Cesar Robles). He reluctantly offers her shelter, recruiting her to help with renovating the house’s rickety wooden framework in preparation for tourists that never come. The sleepwalking Alicia soon becomes a focus of sexual interest among the local menfolk. Both Oscar and his adult son Freddy (Heraldo Romero), who returns home with mysterious injuries and murky intentions following a long absence, spy on her at night.

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A co-production between Colombia, Mexico and France, La Sirga is an elliptical portrait of life on the fringes of a low-level war. Director William Vega never contextualizes the violence that hovers just out of shot, besides glancingly opaque allusions to Colombia’s long-running, drug-fuelled guerrilla conflict. However, this purgatorial setting could just as easy be a timeless post-apocalyptic wasteland straight out of a Tarkovksy or Beckett. Indeed, Tarkovksy is a clear influence on Vega’s spare shooting style, framing these waterlogged landscapes and crumbling wooden shacks with a chilly film-school formalism that is impeccably elegant but also stiff and outdated.

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Punctuated by a constant rhythmic backbeat of creaking wood, rustling wind and hammering rainfall, La Sirga is essentially a disjointed collage of stark sound effects and strikingly composed images. There may be an engaging human story buried in here somewhere, but the film-makers prefer to keep it maddeningly cryptic. Vega’s mastery of old-school arthouse technique is impressive. But much like Alicia, any viewers hoping to be informed or entertained may end up sleepwalking right out of the cinema. 

Venue: Cannes film festival, Directors’ Fortnight screening, May 19
Production company: Contravia Films, Burning Blue, Cine-Sud Promotion, Film Tank, Pontoguionunto
Cast: Joghis Seudyn Arias, Julio Cesar Robles, David Guacas, Heraldo Romero
Director: William Vega
Producers: Oscar Ruiz Nava, Diana Bustamante, Thierry Lenouvel, Edgar San Juan, Jaye Galicot, Issa Guerra, Sebastien Sanchez
Director of photography: Miguel Schverdfinger
Sales agent: MTM Film
Rating TBC, 88 minutes