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Gente de bien

December 6, 2015

Gente de bien (2014)
Director: Franco Lolli
Actors: Bryan Santamaria, Carlos Fernando Perez, Alejandra Borrero

gentedebien1.jpg (310×190)

Synopsis: A young boy, Eric (Bryan Santamaria), moves in with his estranged father, Gabriel (Carlos Fernando Perez), after his mother leaves the country for some unspecified reason, presumably employment. Eric and Gabriel soon become involved with the wealthier folk whom Gabriel does some carpentry jobs for.

Review: It’s not easy to make cinema look this simple, this natural, this real to life, but that’s exactly what director Franco Lolli has done in easily one of the best new feature films I’ve seen in recent years. In style, it’s not a whole lot different from the signature of that South American master, Lucrecia Martel, although there’s a simplicity and total rebuttal of the artfulness that even Martel’s cinema sometimes dabbles in.

In retrospect, it’s not surprising I fell for this film. I lived in Bogotá for a number of months around the turn of 2012/13, and the naturalistic idiom of Lolli takes you straight into the Bogotán milieu – from the panoramic views that the altitude-plagued city provides, and the evocative, crammed-in buzz of La Candelaria district, to the plusher environs of the country just outside the capital city.

Lolli’s attitude to dramaturgy is admirably classy and respectful. There’s no spoon-fed direction, no third-person narration, and time and scenarios float effortlessly along – helped by the absence of any non-diegetic sound and the elegant use of dissolves and fades. Lolli’s story does actually contain a rich social tapestry and strong characterisations, it just doesn’t feel that way with his subtle and unobtrusive storytelling. There’s the obvious dialectic of Eric essentially integrating with two new family ‘units’ (his poor father and various relatives on that side of his family versus the upper middle-class family he holidays with through his father’s handyman connections). There is however, more fleeting commentary too, like the split-second where Lolli’s framing lingers on an unhappy-looking indigenous woman – evidently the ‘hired help’ escorting Eric and his new rich friend to the fancy shopping mall.

Another excellent quality of Gente de bien‘s is its refutation of conflict-and-resolution paradigms (at many stages I was anticipating a lurch into tragedy or third-act machinations – perhaps when the dog gets impounded, or when an increasingly frustrated Eric is fighting with his new upper-class pals in the pool). The closest the film comes though to any form of a ‘message’ is less the fact that it’s tragic per se that Colombia has a society of haves, have nots and insidious ethnic divides, just merely that there appears to be an intrinsic incompatibility between all these groups of people. (December 2015)

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