Category Archives: Peruvian

The City and The Dogs (1985)

The first thing you learn in the army is how to be a man, and men smoke and drink, and fuck … but the ones that don’t get caught are the smart ones.”

Based on the Mario Vargas Llosa novel,  Time of the Hero Francisco J. Lombardi’s film The City and the Dogs (La Ciudad y los Perros) is an ultimately disturbing film which examines how morality and individuality are subsumed within a militaristic institution. The institution under scrutiny in the film  is a military college in Lima, Peru, and the film begins with scenes depicting the savage “baptism” of cadets. In N. America, the term ‘hazing’ would be used to describe the degrading activities that take place in the dormitories and showers with new cadets humiliated and being treated like dogs by the older cadets. There’s almost too much to absorb in the mayhem of these hellish scenes–a fiery hoop, one cadet hanging upside down, cadets on all fours with leashes around their necks, and two cadets engaged in a ‘dog fight.’ It’s clear that one cadet, a strange figure known as The Jaguar (Juan Manuel Ochoa) refuses to submit to the humiliations heaped on the others. But even more than that, The Jaguar, who’s a former gang member, fights back and establishes his dominance.

All of the cadets are supposed to abide by the college’s strict rules which include no alcohol and no smoking. The Jaguar, however, along with three other cadets: Cava, Boa (Aristoteles Picho) and Rulos (Tono Vega) form “the Circle” a shady organisation responsible for providing the other cadets with contraband: pornography, alcohol, cigarettes, uniforms and even, more significantly stolen tests. It’s almost graduation time, and The Circle arranges for the theft of the chemistry test, but when the theft is discovered, all the cadets who were on duty that night are confined to barracks until the thief is uncovered.

Part of the film follows the relationship between two of the cadets outside the Circle–The Slave (Esclavo) played by Eduardo Adrianzén and the Poet (Pablo Serra), who writes letters and dirty stories for the other cadets in the dormitory. When Esclavo is confined to the barracks following the theft of the chemistry test, he asks the Poet to go and visit Teresa (Liliana Navarro) a girl he adores. When barracks confinement continues, Esclavo, a quiet, friendless cadet who bears the brunt of nonstop bullying, breaks under the pressure….

Although the film’s plot seems fairly simple, there’s a lot going on in this complex film. On one level, there’ s the group behaviour of the cadets–all of whom are afraid to cross The Jaguar. After all since The Jaguar provides the other cadets with cigarettes and booze, to some extent, he’s made their confinement at the college far more tolerable. None of the cadets dare cross The Jaguar–no matter how cruel he is, and this is due in part to fear but also to the material comforts he provides.

When a death occurs at the college, an investigation is conducted and a report generated.  Lt. Gamboa (Gustavo Bueno), a decent man who wants to do the right thing, questions its accuracy with catastrophic results. Through the actions of Gamboa and the Poet, we see just how individual morality is squashed or perverted by institutional & military dictates.  Truth is trumped by such nebulous concepts as ‘duty,’ ‘honour,’ and ‘tradition,’ so we see that those who thrive within a militaristic institution or society are those who are willing to allow their individual morality to be controlled or subsumed. Therefore someone like The Jaguar thrives and even uses institutional dictates to run amok while gentler cadets are crushed by the system. Of course, on another level, life within the college could be symbolic of life within a militaristic society with bullies, sadists and conformists rising to the top.

The film also examines how individual motivation is affected by the perceptions of  ‘the group’. What motivates the Poet, for example? Is he motivated by guilt or something finer? And then what of the Jaguar? Can we believe his final statement? Or is he simply trying to be a ‘hero’ or a tough guy to the last? The film doesn’t give any easy answers to these questions, but the message ultimately is that if the individual decides to stand up against the ruling system, then one should be prepared for the system to strike back against the individual. Just how far anyone is prepared to go to fight the system, depends on just how much one is willing to pay.  

For those wishing to dip into Peruvian film, Lombardi’s film, Mariposa Negra is superb, and Ojos Que No Ven should not be missed. There’s also Tinta Roja, Don’t Tell Anyone, and Pantaleon y Las Visitadoras

The City and the Dogs is an entry into Caroline and Richard’s Foreign film festival


Filed under militarism, Peruvian

Mariposa Negra (2006)


“Sometimes it’s better not to know.”

The marvelous, amazing and ultimately tragic film Mariposa Negra (Black Butterfly) follows the relationship between two young Peruvian women who are thrown together by circumstance and then swept up in brutality orchestrated by Montesinos, the head of Peru’s Intelligence Service. This is yet another incredible film from director Francisco Lombardi. After his fantastic Ojos Que No Ven and Tinta Roja, I couldn’t wait to see Mariposa Negra, and I was not disappointed.

When the film begins, young idealistic schoolteacher, Gabriela (Melania Urbina) is engaged to judge, Guido Pazos (Dario Abad) when he is brutally murdered in his apartment. Tabloid journalist, Angela (Magdyel Ugaz) is assigned to cover the story. As usual, her boss, Osman (Gustavo Bueno) hands her an outline of the sort of muck he wants her to write. The torture and murder of the judge–a man who’d received death threats–turns into a sleazy story claiming that the judge was killed while participating in a homosexual orgy.

Grief-stricken Gabriela begins haunting the newspaper office. Already ripped apart by the loss of her fiance, Gabriela is outraged at the tabloid headlines. Gabriela, who comes from a privileged background, is largely oblivious to the uglier side of Peruvian politics, and so she interprets the tabloid story in a linear fashion, seeing it as a pack of lies that needs to be corrected rather than a piece of propaganda controlled by Montesinos. After Gabriela creates a scene in the newspaper office, Osman orders her dragged outside, and there she waits for hours, determined to talk to the journalist who wrote the story about Guido.

Angela notes Gabriela’s tenacious, patient presence outside of the building, and she approaches Gabriela. Is she driven by curiosity, a spark of compassion, or is she motivated by the urge to pop Gabriela’s innocent illusions about Peruvian society? After meeting Angela, the two girls–similar age but from opposite backgrounds–strike up a relationship. These two characters are both fascinating women, and their relationship is at the heart of this incredible film.

Angela has no illusions, is tough and jaded. While she contemplates ambition, she’s lost her drive, and her editor bitches at her for her lack of enthusiasm without realizing that he is responsible for her attitude. With all those sleazy stories she’s told to write, she’s world-weary enough to realize that she’s caught in a maze of corruption, and that fighting against it is futile. But then she meets Gabriela–a girl who comes from a protected, cosseted environment, but who will not rest until she has revenge. Confronted with Gabriela’s naivete, Angela is at first brusque but then she becomes curious about Gabriela. This curiosity is tinged with a protective edge.

Gabriela discovers that tapes exist of Guido’s death, and Montesinos, who had a penchant for taping his illegal activities–ordered the torture and murder (termed ‘medical operations’)–along with video commemoration of the killing.

Ultimately this is a tragic story, immensely sad and incredibly disturbing. But at the same time there’s beauty here–Gabriela’s single minded, obsessive desire to meet Guido’s killers and her calm acceptance of her inevitable fate. To her, giving her life is worth the risk if she can clear Guido’s name and catch his killers. Angela, at first, dismisses Gabriela as a lightweight, incapable of holding her own on the streets, but Gabriela possesses what Angela lacks–a belief system, and that gives her strength and makes her impervious to fear. Common sense and a strong sense of self-preservation would hinder Angela from undertaking the sort of risks Gabriela takes, and Gabriela continues to surprise Angela.

The only film I can compare to Mariposa Negra is George Sluizer’s Dutch film Spoorloos (the American version starring Jeff Bridges is The Vanishing) in which the main character, Rex Hofman possesses the same sort of single-minded obsession as Gabriela. There is simply no peace in this life, on this planet until Gabriela completes–or fails–her mission. Obsession usually causes stress and often-erratic behavior, but in Mariposa Negra, Gabriela’s obsessive quest to avenge Guido actually gives her peace and an unnerving otherworldly serenity. Gabriela’s aura of innocence adds to the film’s strong sense of fatalism.

Mariposa Negra from director Francisco J. Lombardi highlights a dark period in Peru’s history. The downfall of Montesinos eventually came as the result of the exposure of his secret videotape stash by Peruvian journalists who were brave enough to expose Montesinos via television and risk the consequences.

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Filed under Peruvian, Political/social films

Ojos Que No Ven (2003)

 “One corrupt government is over and you want another scoundrel for president?”

In 2000, secret videotapes showing the corrupt activities of Montesinos, the long-time head of Peru’s Intelligence Service were broadcast on Peru’s only independent news channel. Montesinos, who attended the notorious U.S. School of the Americas (AKA Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation), virtually ran Peru under its Premier Alberto Fujimora. Montesinos made literally thousands of secret videotapes of himself meeting and bribing various politicians, journalists, and television station owners, and Montesinos also supervised the secret death squad known as the Colina Group.

ojosThe film, Ojos Que No Ven weaves six interconnected stories against the backdrop of the tainted and troubled political scene in Peru. While this is not an overtly political film, the plot illustrates the moral decay which permeates Peruvian society, and shows how a handful of Peruvian citizens are affected by the Montesinos scandal and the subsequent downfall of Fujimora’s government.

When the film begins, two elderly patients in a decaying Peruvian hospital watch a television station that broadcasts the first of the Montesinos tapes. Their medical conditions enforce their stationary observations as the political scandal unfolds and the country collapses. One of the elderly men is visited by his innocent granddaughter, Mercedes (Melania Urbina). In the political fallout from the Montesinos scandal, Mercedes’ father is arrested, and she seeks help from the decadent, corrupt lawyer, Federico Penaflor (Gustavo Bueno).

Meanwhile, with the government in freefall, it’s still not clear how far investigations of various atrocities will go. Chauca (Carlos Alcantara), a petty criminal and a member of the Colina Group participates in yet another politically motivated killing, and when things go wrong, he’s on the run with his girlfriend, a make-up artist who works for a self-focused newscaster, Gonzalo (Paul Vega).

In another thread, an introverted, round-shouldered minor clerk rooms with a poverty-stricken family, and he idolizes the nasty daughter from afar. The clerk is a Walter Mitty type with an inner film noir dialogue, and he seems impervious to his idol’s rough rejections. The clerk’s employment brings him into contact with the Montesinos videotapes, and ironically this contact yields an opportunity for corruption and possible success in his courtship. Paradoxically, however, it’s clear that the clerk’s opportunity for corruption and successful courtship will inevitably yield only grief.

In another connected story, an army colonel (Gianfranco Brero) who faces scandal and imprisonment contemplates suicide until he runs into the wife of a murdered man.

At 150 minutes, the film Ojos Que No Ven (AKA What the Eye Doesn’t See) weaves together its many interconnected stories. The socio-political merit of the film, however, is somewhat weakened by several elements–the character of the clerk, and the apparent moral transformation of the army colonel, for example–are the poorer facets of the film. Nonetheless, if you like Latin cinema, and you enjoy a politically-driven story, Ojos Que No Ven from director Francisco J. Lombardi is well worth watching. In Spanish with English subtitles.

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Filed under Peruvian, Political/social films

Pantaleon y las Visitadoras (2000)

 “I hope you like the jungle.”

In the Peruvian comedy Pantaleon y las Visitadoras, strait-laced Captain Pantaleon Pantoja (Salvador del Solar) is given the daunting mission of setting up a ‘visitor’s centre’ in the heart of the Peruvian jungle. According to Pantoja’s superiors, there are more than 8,000 lonely soldiers stationed in various camps throughout the jungle, and these men are molesting local women. When the public outcry becomes overwhelming, Peruvian military officials decide to establish the ‘visitor’s centre’ loaded with energetic, young prostitutes. The plan is that these women will visit the camps, and provide the lonely, desperate soldiers with a little R&R. As a result, it’s hoped that the soldiers’ attention will be distracted away from the unwelcoming local women, and back to the imported professional women who want a chance to earn some big money.

Captain Pantaleon Pantoja seems the perfect man for the job. He has no vices and is happily married. Pantaleon approaches the job as he would any military campaign–with maps, logistics, organization, pre-operation pep talks, and a complete strategy. He even subverts the carnal truth behind this delicate mission by renaming the essential components. This really has to be the funniest part of the film, but it soon lapses into predictable, silly and titillating comedy interspersed with occasional stripping and a few cheap laughs. Olga Arellano (Angie Cepeda) or “La Colombiano” provides the majority of film’s erotic tension. The film is based on a novel by Mario Vargas Llosa, and is in Spanish with English subtitles.

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Don’t Tell Anyone (1998)

 “Imagine you’re aiming at baby Jesus.”

dont-tell anyoneIn the Peruvian film, Don’t Tell Anyone Joaquin Camino (Santiago Magill) doesn’t exactly fit his father’s notions of masculinity, so his father drags the teenager off on a day trip designed to bring out his son’s inner brute. It’s a sad commentary that being a man is supposed to be about shooting, killing and brutalizing, but that’s exactly what Joaquin’s dad thinks. The trip is a disaster–Joaquin is paired off with a handyman’s Indian son, and while they’re supposed to be hunting, Joaquin’s advances towards the other man are rebuffed in horror. But all this escapes the notice of Joaquin’s father; they return to the city, and in his father’s eyes at least, Joaquin’s day somehow serves as a rite of passage into manhood.

Joaquin then goes to university where he meets fellow student Alejandra (Lucia Jimenez). While Joaquin’s religious, protective mother is delighted to see her son involved with a girl from a good family, the relationship is fraught with problems. He meets Gonzalo (Christian Meier), the fiance of Alejandra’s best friend, and they begin a secret relationship. Gonzalo argues that he loves his fiancee and intends to get married, and he seems to find it perfectly normal to live this double life with Joaquin on the side.

Joaquin tries to come to terms with Peruvian society’s attitude towards homosexuality. His male friends accept these secret relationships between males that are coupled with marriage to acceptable, desirable woman and also contrasted to violent, public homophobia. Joaquin, unable to juggle all these opposing moralities, finally leaves Peru and dives into Miami’s seamy side.

The film addresses many of the hypocrisies associated with Peruvian society’s attitude towards homosexuality, and also ties in this attitude with prevalent racist attitudes towards the Indian population. However, Joaquin is not a particularly sympathetic character, and ultimately the film’s conclusion seems ambiguous. From director Francisco J. Lombardi, the film Don’t Tell Anyone is in Spanish with English subtitles.

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Tinta Roja (2000)

 “Like prostitution, journalism is learned on the streets.”

tinta-rojaThe Peruvian film, Tinta Roja follows the trials and tribulations of a journalism student, Alfonso (Giovanni Ciccia), when he is assigned as an intern to a tacky tabloid called Le Clamor. While Alfonso wants to cover shows, instead that assignment falls to his attractive competitor, Nadia (Lucia Jimenez), and Alfonso finds himself unwillingly assigned to cover police stories. The newspaper editor’s philosophy is that the stories should entertain–rather than teach–the reader, and so in order to succeed, Alfonso quickly learns to toss aside all sense of journalistic ethics and chase the latest police event, and this includes suicides, car accidents, rapes, etc.

Alfonso becomes the fourth man on the police story team. Van Gogh (Carlos Gassols) is the driver who continually quotes famous sayings in an attempt to bring a sense of philosophy to the random world of crime. Escalona (Fele Martinez) is the predatory photographer, but it’s the wily Faundez (Gianfranco Brero)–a man who has no sense of shame when it comes to getting a headline–who heads the team. Faundez’s motto is to get to the scene, take the grisliest photos possible, and then round up the nearest relative of the victim and exploit them while they’re emotionally vulnerable. While Alfonso is at first horrified by this sort of behaviour, he’s soon under the influence of his new mentor, Faundez, and he quickly finds himself chasing and embellishing the tawdriest stories with gusto.

Tinta Roja is a very lively, colourful film, with plenty of dark humour, and its strong characters practically leap off the screen. After a very entertaining beginning, the film sags a little in the middle, but manages to recoup by the conclusion. Tinta Roja is based on the novel by Alberto Fuguet, and is directed by Francisco J. Lombardi. In Spanish with English subtitles.

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Destiny Has No Favorites (2003)

 “It’s impossible to know what a woman truly hides.”

destiny has no favouritesIn the Peruvian comedy film, Destiny Has No Favorites wealthy Ernesto (Javier Valdez) rents out the grounds of his splendid mansion to a television studio. He then announces to his wife Ana (Monica Steuer) that he’s going away on business leaving her to deal with the actors and actresses from the soap-opera that’s about to filmed outside. Ana, who’s peevish, spoilt and bored to tears, professes disgust at the “vulgarity” of the popular soap, Destiny, and her disdain becomes even greater when her two maids glue themselves to the windows watching the soap being filmed.

This soap is set in the Hotel Anything Goes and the plot concerns a wealthy wheelchair bound woman, Virtudes (Elena Romero) who’s married to a young unscrupulous hunk Alejandro (Bernie Paz). Glamorous star Maria (Angie Cepeda) competes for Alejandro’s attention. Like most soaps, the plot is full of cliches, bizarre plot twists, and general nastiness.

The director announces a new role–Alejandro’s ex-girlfriend, and Ana–who’s snooping around the set is mistaken for an actress and given the role. Flattered, and excited, Ana takes the part without revealing that she’s the wealthy woman who owns the mansion. She’s a natural for the role, and soon she’s manipulating her way around the set–upsetting everyone–except the director. Meanwhile another complication sets in when fate sends the director inside Ana’s home, and here he begins a tentative friendship with the mysterious and disguised lady-of-the-house. He’s soon consulting her about the soap, and she steers him away from the “conventional morality” of the plot. Ana’s life becomes increasingly more complicated as the lines blur between her ‘real’ life and her double life as the actress Ana Anguish.

The film directed by Alvaro Velarde almost works–some of the scenes between the actresses are quite funny–especially when the claws appear, and it’s very easy to accept that this rich, bored woman would thrive on the nastiness of a soap opera set. But there’s something missing. The film doesn’t go far enough with its comedy, and the characters should be unleashed. There’s nothing ‘wrong’ with the film, and it’s certainly a pleasant little diversion. But given the premise, the film could have been so much more. In Spanish with English subtitles.

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Filed under Comedy, Peruvian