Porfirio: Film Review

Porfirio Film Still
Cannes Film Festival
A minimalist story of an injured man’s struggles and his dreams of flight, told mostly through the routine actions of daily life.

Porfirio Ramirez Aldana stars as himself in Alejandro Landes' minimalist story of the everyday events that drove a paralyzed man to try to hijack a plane.

CANNES -- With an austere focus on physical action and behavior worthy of Robert Bresson, Alejandro Landes offers a portrait of an imprisoned man who wishes to escape in Porfirio. Unlike the prisoner of war in Bresson’s A Man Escaped, however, Porfirio Ramirez Aldana is trapped instead within his own partially paralyzed body. Living in a city on the outskirts of the Colombian Amazon, his world has been reduced to tiny rooms and a wheelchair. With his lawsuit against the government going badly, Porfirio plots his escape — and revenge.

Films such as this, which Landes developed partially at the Sundance Institute, get seen primarily at festivals, of course. Yet Porfirio has enough things going for it, from its headline-grabbing backstory to the courage of its lead actor, that brief engagements in art cinemas anywhere in the world are not out of the question. The film is rich in atmosphere and character.

About that backstory: On the 12th of September, 2005, Porfirio, wearing diapers that hid two grenades, tried to hijack a plane to Bogotá. The news account fascinated Landes, who visited the man in prison, then spent five years developing a film that would eventually star, in true Bressonian fashion, non-pros such Porfirio himself, his son and a young woman next door to whom Porfirio has taken a shine.

Landes, who also wrote the script, concentrates not on the hijacking, which happens only at the end of the movie and off-screen, but on the daily existence of a man badly damaged by a stray police bullet to the spine. The film observes all details of his ablutions, exercise, hygiene, the care of his lazy son (Jarlinsson Ramirez Reinoso), his meager income from selling call time on his cell phone and sexual activities with his next-door neighbor (Yor Jasbleidy Santos Torres).

Porfirio exhibits both courage and frustration in his encounters with the constant limitations of his physical freedom. Calls and even a visit to a lawyer supposedly representing him in his claims against the state are fruitless. But he perseveres … and he makes plans.

Thus, the film falls into an interesting intersection between documentary and feature, between reality and fiction. It is neither one and it is both. Finally, Porfirio is its own breed of cat that is a tribute both to the filmmaker and his subject in their openness to exploring the seemingly banal in order to gain a greater perspective on humanity, spirituality and the tragi-comedy that is life.

Venue: Cannes Film Festival, Directors’ Fortnight
Sales: Arri Media Worldsales
Production companies: Franja Nomo in co-production with Carmelita Films, Campo Cine, Control Z Films and Atopic
Cast: Porfirio Ramirez Aldana, Jarlinsson Ramirez Reinoso, Yor Jasbleidy Santos Torres
Director/screenwriter: Alejandro Landes
Producers: Francisco Aljure, Alejandro Landes
Executive producers: Jorge Manrique Behrens, Maja Zimmerman
Director of photography: Thimios Bakatakis
Production designer: Daniela Schneider
Editor: Eliane D. Katz
No rating, 106 minutes