BIFF 2013 - La Playa D.C. - Cinema Review

'Brushes with young hoodlums, low-ladder bottom-dwellers, shows them to be exactly that. There's no glamour in the illegality here, nothing pretty.'

Juan Andrés Arango Garcia's first feature, La Playa D.C. heralds the arrival of both a new visually skilful director and one who has already at least partially mastered the necessaries for telling a brave story. Where other down-and-out tales would focus on criminality, descending into a gangster-led land of glamorised criminality, Garcia's greatest strength is his ability to step past all of this and instead find a very human story, amongst lives of crime and lack of privilege.

Anchored by the performance of Luis Carlos Guevara, La Playa D.C. also stands out by just how naturalistic Garcia's actors appear. Tomas (Guevara) has the right level of blank-faced every-man energy to identify with, whilst brother Chaco (Jamés Solís) bounces with much louder costuming. Solís, in fact, turns in the best performance. A reluctant helper in Tomas' quest to save younger brother Jairo (Andrés Murillo) from the drug dealer he is indebted to, Chaco's selfish streak sees him form into a roguish anti-hero, a nice antidote to Tomas straight-laced honesty.

Whilst character forms the backbone, Garcia's content is what is more refreshing. Brushes with young hoodlums, low-ladder bottom-dwellers, shows them to be exactly that. There's no glamour in the illegality here, nothing pretty. By contrast, Tomas natural skill with drawing, which leads him into a straight-laced job styling ornate designs into Bogota-resident's hair, shows where his future could lead. In any other film, resigned to consign the inner city youth to drugs and gangstering, the opportunities Tomas has would be taken away, but La Playa D.C. decides to at least hint at positivity, come its closing frames.

There are some errors here, mainly of a story-led variety. Tomas briefly starts a relationship with a girl from a neighbouring hair salon, and for a time it provides warm distraction from the main plot. They don't spend enough time together, however, and she is quickly dumped by the plot and, apparently, Tomas for the sake of the brotherly love plot. The background too, involving something to do with guerrilla warfare and the brother's father, is muddle and unclear. Elsewhere though, this is a strong offering and an exciting premise to what Garcia might offer in the future.




The 19th Bradford International Film Festival ran from 11th to 21st April 2013 at the National Media Museum and other venues near to the city.

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