QUICK SNAP: LIVE FROM SAN SEBASTIAN
Rá, Culebro, Sere, Winny and Nano are all aged between 12 and 19 and live on the chaotic streets of Medellin. They have no relatives, and instead consider themselves a real family. These five boys address each other with an affectionate “hermanito” (little brother) and indeed have a fraternal relationship. That’s in fact their only support network, in a brutal city where violence is often the main currency and people have little time for the hardship of the poor, however young and hopeless these victims of the system may be.
This international co-production between two Latin American (Colombia and Mexico) and three European nations (France, Norway and Luxembourg) has all the ingredients necessary in order to please audiences on both sides of the Atlantic: street violence, abject poverty and a journey of redemption. Our five little protagonists embark on a road trip to towards Rá’s native land somewhere in rural Colombia. The oldest of the fivesome wishes to claim a piece of land inherited from his grandmother. In Colombia, those fighting for land restitution through ancestry are often threatened and killed. The brave and yet ingenuous young people seem blithely unaware of the uphill struggle that they face. Uphill in both the literal and the metaphorical sense. The numerous challenges that they must overcome include the verdant hills of the rainforest that covers most of the South American country.
The most beautiful scene of the film takes place in a brothel, one of the many stops on their long journey. This is the only place where they receive genuine affection from strangers. One of the boys rests his head on the lap of a prostitute, while the other ones dance with the much older ladies. It reminded me of the moment in which a prostitute breastfeeds the child protagonist of the classic Pixote (Hector Babenco, 1981), one of the most powerful scenes in the history of Latin American cinema.
The first half of the film features various adrenaline-fuelled sequences, such as three of the boys riding on top of a lorry on a precarious hillside side, with two of them attaching themselves with the vehicle with a tiny rope while riding their motorbikes. An abrupt turn could lead to sudden death. Yet they seem elated with joy. The young kings think that they are about to reach the top of the world. Their ambitions, however, are thwarted once they arrive at the local notary. They find out that the legal barriers that they have to overcome are much taller than the dangerous mountains that they just climbed. Despite being on the right side of the law, they are treated with indifference and disdain, a predicament familiar to many Colombians battling for a piece of land.
The second half of the film is far more introspective. Two of the kings fall on their journey (as all monarchs eventually do), and the tone of the film becomes far more thoughtful and reflective. Perhaps a little too meditative even. The final sequence is pretentiously philosophical and poorly staged, compromising the integrity of an otherwise fairly effective film.
Kings of the World has just premiered in the Official Competition of the 70th San Sebastian International Film Festival/ Donostia Zinemaldia.