‘Land and Shade’ (‘La Tierra y la Sombra’): Cannes Review

Courtesy of Semaine de la Critique
A formally arresting work that delivers more style than story

Colombian director Cesar Acevedo premieres his first feature in the Cannes Critics’ Week

A beautifully crafted, leisurely paced portrait of a Colombian family holding on while the world is literally engulfed in flames around them, Land and Shade (La Tierra y la Sombra) clearly belongs to what’s known as the “slow cinema” genre, offering up some intoxicating visuals but taking its precious time in the storytelling department. Written and directed by first-timer Cesar Acevedo, whose short films have won prizes in Rotterdam and Berlin, this Cannes Critics’ Week premiere should see additional festival play and theatrical bids in its various co-producing territories.

An impressive opening shot features an old man walking down a country road surrounded by towering rows of sugarcane. A truck slowly arrives from the distance, eventually passing him by and covering the entire frame in a cloud of white dust.

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We soon learn that the man, Alfonso (Haimer Leal), is returning to the home he left many years ago, where the rest of his family has stuck by trying to make a living farming the nearby fields. But with fires burning every night to clear the land, Alfonso’s son, Gerardo (Edison Raigosa) has developed a deadly lung disease, leaving his wife (Marleyda Soto) and mother (Hilda Ruiz) to do the difficult work in his place.

Capturing much of the action in a series of well-choreographed sequence shots, Acevedo and DP Mateo Guzman provide an array of roving, memorable images, including the opening scene (repeated later with a slight variation) and one involving a horse that’s straight out of an Andrei Tarkovksy movie. Other sequences are a bit loaded with symbolism, especially when Gerardo’s condition worsens and shots of flying kites and burning crops all too heavily evoke the encroachment of death.

It’s the kind of formally robust film where the cinematography often dominates the narrative, and where the characters often seem like they’re just another aspect of the pictorial compositions. Thus, a side-plot involving a workers’ strike in the sugarcane fields is only given peripheral treatment, while minimal dialogue and lots of dead air make the time pass extremely slowly in certain scenes – although the passing of time seems to be one of the themes at the heart of Acevedo’s project.

While Land and Shade sometimes evokes the work of fellow South American director Lisando Alonso (Jauja), it lacks the sense of mystery found in the latter’s oeuvre, even if it seems to be channeling a similar feeling of rural abandon. Acevedo deserves credit for crafting something so audacious – along with the photography, the sound design by Felipe Rayo is also boldly conceived – though there are moments when the style really dominates the subject matter, in a film that’s a pleasure to watch but not always one to follow.

Production company: Burning Blue
Cast: Haimer Leal, Hilda Ruiz, Edison Raigosa, Marleyda Soto, Jose Felipe Cardernas
Director, screenwriter: Cesar Acevedo
Producers: Diana Bustamante Escobar, Paola Andrea Perez Nieto, Jorge Forero
Director of photography: Mateo Guzman
Production designer: Marcela Gomez
Editor: Miguel Schverdfinger
International sales: Pyramide International

No rating, 105 minutes