Luz: The Flower Of Evil

****1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Luz: The Flower Of Evil
"A work of such singular vision that it scarcely seems like the product of a team."

Much of what you need to know to make sense of Luz: The Flower Of Evil – to the extent to which it concedes to that approach – is present in its startling open sequence, a feast of images which immediately establishes what director Juan Diego Escobar Alzate is capable of. Drifting through the lush landscape of the Colombian mountains we take in a little homestead, a solitary tree, four wooden crosses erected on a hill, an axe... and a tape recorder. Half-buried in the debris of the forest floor, it’s not something one would expect to find here. It is, one soon realises, the source of the music we can hear - Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet. This is the first music that Uma (Yuri Vargas) has ever heard.

Alzate has said that to him, any music so beautiful and so pure must contain some element of evil. When Uma takes the tape recorder to her father, the ragged-bearded man known as El Señor, he confiscates it, saying that the Devil lives inside it. El Señor’s life has revolved around a lengthy struggle with the Devil. To reassure the villagers who cleave to him, he has proclaimed that Jesus Christ will return in bodily form to protect their small community and keep evil at bay. Jesus takes the form of a blond haired, blue eyed boy whom he keeps in the chicken coop with an ox yoke round his neck, testing his divinity with the cold and the lack of food or water. This is his fifth Jesus and Uma, glimpsing the fate that befalls the boy’s mother, is beginning to suspect that they are not what her father claims. Something’s got to give.

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This is Alzate’s first feature and it’s a work of such singular vision that it scarcely seems like the product of a team. Nicolás Caballero Arenas’ beguiling cinematography combines with Alejandro Jaramillo’s sound design and Brian Heater’s additional music into a seamless whole, immersing the viewer so completely that it becomes possible to share the villagers’ beliefs in the essentially magical nature of the world around them, to understand the dread that they live with day to day. Some of their drives are more earthly, like the young man Adán’s lust for El Señor’s three daughters, whom he watches when they are bathing – but therein lies sin. And there is more to Adán’s fascination – he has been told that the trio are saints of angels, not of this Earth, a blessing to the community. The mother, Luz, lies buried up on the hill beneath the tree that never blooms.

It’s tough to be expected to live as an angel or a saint when one is an earthly being filled with desires of one’s own. Alzate has not made the mistake of prettifying the young women too much. They look real and corporeal, their flowing dresses quickly getting stained as they go about their day to day labours, their long hair tangled by the wind. The eldest, Uma is in her twenties now and beginning to wonder if the Devil is really what people claim. The polarised version of the world that she has been taught to believe in inclines her to move away from God. But as El Señor realises that his daughters cannot match the standard he has set for them, the love that he feels for them comes into conflict with darker emotions. It becomes clear that no-one is truly safe from the violence tearing at his soul.

Played out in a landscape that is equal parts Garden of Eden and chaotic Hellscape, this is a story with the weight of myth, the precision of Mozart. There’s a rawness about it that doesn’t always work in its favour but helps it maintain a necessary edge. It’s an extraordinarily bold piece of filmmaking and one waits with bated breath to see what Alzante will do next.

Reviewed on: 02 Mar 2020
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Luz: The Flower Of Evil packshot
Widowed preacher and leader to a small mountain community, El Señor has preached to his followers that a new messiah will appear and shepherd them into a new era. His faith is absolute, regardless of how many false prophets he has to go through. But the faith of his three daughters is beginning to waver.

Director: Juan Diego Escobar Alzate

Writer: Juan Diego Escobar Alzate

Starring: Yuri Vargas, Jim Muñoz, Conrado Osorio

Year: 2019

Runtime: 104 minutes

Country: Colombia, Canada, US

Festivals:

Glasgow 2020

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