La Playa DC

La Playa DC


Reviewed by: Michael Pattison

Colombia’s latest cinematic export is La Playa DC, a refreshingly low-key and visually distinct work that marks debut writer-director Juan Andrés Arango as a confident talent to watch. Premiering in the Un Certain Regard strand at Cannes last year, the film tells its otherwise unremarkable tale – of adolescents on the daunting threshold of premature adulthood – with the same care and precision with which its ensemble of teenagers style outrageous designs into their hairdos.

Afro-Colombian teenager Tomás (Luis Carlos Guevara) navigates an emotionally claustrophobic, physically clustered and financially sparse present-day Bogotá, where he lives with his mother and stand-in father. Having moved to the Colombian capital from their beachside home in coastal city Buenaventura in flight from the country’s ongoing civil war, Tomás’ family is already broken: though his older brother Chaco (Jamés Solís) has returned following deportation (from, we later learn, Canada), his drug-addicted younger brother Jairo (Andrés Murillo) is still missing on the streets.

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When the latter casually reappears, however, their mother’s new partner takes a firm hand, chasing the youngest sibling off; Tomás follows in pursuit. Taking up close-quarter lodgings with older brother Chaco, Tomás looks for Jairo while flirting with other interests and responsibilities, in the respective form of a teenage crush and an apprenticeship at a small barbershop in the local shopping mall.

Working with cinematographer Nicolas Canniccioni, Arango directs with clarity, subtlety and sensitivity, and elicits excellent and unassuming performances from his young cast. Already displaced and made fatherless by an endless war, Tomás is a reluctant protagonist, and Guevara does well to convey dormant resentment alongside a rugged determination to hold things together. For Chaco, meanwhile, Colombia has little appeal. “Every time I come back here,” he says, “I want to leave again. This fucking country…” When Tomás finally catches up with Jairo, his younger brother is astute enough to admit that his crack addiction is in direct response to childhood displacement; smoking, he tells Tomás in the film’s most moving scene, allows him to go back to their Buenaventura home.

Arango sets up thematic riffs from the off. As a symbolic backdrop, Tomás’ passion for skilled hair styling echoes his and others’ need for purpose, focus and identity in a world that guarantees none of them. In the film’s first line of dialogue, meanwhile, Tomás’ mother tells him there is a job going as a security guard, to which Tomás responds aggressively. As it turns out, of course, stepfather Roel is a security guard, and later in the film, after he has been unjustifiably driven out of a public area by overenthusiastic security staff, Tomás imagines shooting Roel with Jairo, as if doing so would instantly solve their shared misery and restore the cosmic balance. No such equilibrium is assured, of course, and it’s to Arango’s credit that he doesn’t permit his characters the security of escape. His is an urgent and satisfying debut indeed.

Reviewed on: 12 Apr 2013
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Tomás is trying to make his way in Bogota. Looking for his young brother Jairo, he sets out on a journey that will test his ability to deal with the fear and wounds of the past.

Director: Juan Andrés Arango

Writer: Juan Andrés Arango

Starring: Luis Carlos Guevara, Jamés Solís, Andrés Murillo

Year: 2012

Runtime: 90 minutes

Country: Colombia, Brazil, France

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