The Return of Lencho: Film Review

Rough-hewn drama about a rebellious Guatemalan artist registers more as polemics than drama.

A rebellious artist attempts to overcome government repression in his native Guatemala in the debut film by director Mario Rosales.

Well-meaning to the extreme in its portrait of a rebellious artist struggling with an oppressive Guatemalan regime, The Return of Lencho idealizes its central character to such a degree that at one point it literally depicts him as being crucified. Director/screenwriter Mario Rosales’ debut feature will stir some interest in those particularly interested in its political themes, but its endlessly rough-hewn aspects make it tough going for everyone else.

Mario Lanz plays the titular character, a 30-year-old artist who returns to his native country still haunted by memories of his muckraking journalist father’s murder in New York by Guatemalan agents—an episode seen repeatedly in a series of repetitious flashbacks. Although the country seems to have become more democratic, he discovers that covert military forces still exert a reign of terror that soon includes his being put under surveillance.

The dangerous atmosphere doesn’t prevent him from deciding to rally his fellow artists into joining him in staging an arts festival in the village of Rabinal, the site of a massacre of indigenous Mayan people by the army decades earlier. Needless to say, this provocative move incites a crackdown by the authorities.

Shot in 16mm and frequently featuring stylized visual flourishes that needlessly distract from the central narrative, the film subverts its political message with broadly drawn characterizations, stilted dialogue that sounds more like mission statements than actual conversation, and stultifying polemics. Mainly notable for its evocative portrait of Guatemala’s vital underground musical and artistic scene including subversive graffiti, poetry and hip-hop, it fails to register as compelling drama.

Opens: Friday, Nov. 9 (Occularis Films)
Cast: Mario Lanz, Tatiana Palomo, Mariam Aguilar, Carlos Chacon, Emanuel Loarca, Manuel Chitay
Director/screenwriter/producer: Mario Rosales
Director of photography: Raquel Fernandez
Editor: Gabriel Adderley
Costume designer: Pablo “Punk” Estrada
Composer: Radio Zumbido
Not rated, 100 min.