QUICK SNAP: LIVE FROM THE TALLINN BLACK NIGHTS FILM FESTIVAL
[dropca]T[/dropcap]he short opening sequences shows a dead mother following child birth. The two newborn babies are crying on a makeshift cot next to her, their umbilical chords still attached to them. The bed is soaked in blood. Yet you can’t see the vibrant red because Malpaso is a black and white movie. This is a film where the contrast between black and white acquires an entirely different dimension. Here black and white complement each other, like the yin and yang.
The two orphans, whose father is never identified, are brought up by their grandfather. They have a remarkable difference. Candido (Ariel Diaz) is albino, while Braulio (Luis Bryan Mesa) is very black. They are told that a man fell in love with both the moon and the night. Candido is the child of the moon, while Braulio is the child of the night. They live mostly secluded in a small shack until the age of 15, when their grandfather passes away and their home catches on fire. They have to move to the nearby town of Malpaso and face a hostile hitherto environment unbeknownst to them.
Malpaso is a hustling and bustling commercial town in the border between the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Both Spanish and French Creole are widely spoken. Significantly, the name of the town (which does exist) is Spanish for “bad passing”. Violence and intimidation are the main currencies, and soon the two naive and inexperienced siblings have to abide by the rules. They must grapple with menacing thugs, who extort and terrorise the local traders, and take pleasure in bullying Candido. The capo – a man called La Cherna – takes their money obtained from the sale of a donkey and forces them to work for him.
Braulio is super protective of his quiet, pure and vulnerable brother. Others are both repelled and fascinated by the colour of his skin. Orthodox superstitions prevail. A woman is warned that a thousand spells will befall her if she lays a finger on the teenager. He’s perceived as some sort of demigod. Or witch. Reactions are very mixed because people do not understand the precise nature of albinism. One day, tragedy strikes. Braulio and Candido could be separated. Will the latter be able to fend for himself?
The sharp black and white photography of the titular town is the most impressive element of Malpaso. Poverty is neither fetishised nor sanitised. Everything is primitive and precarious. Malpaso consists of muddy roads and shabby wooden constructions. There is very little hope and dream in town, except perhaps for a healer who sells magical potions. There’s a lot of emphasis on naked skin and facial expressions, typically set against a dramatic backdrop. A lot like a photograph by Sebastiao Salgado. A hypnotic viewing.
Malpaso is showing in Competition at the 23rd Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival. DMovies have been invited as special guests to cover the event.