Written by José Watanabe and directed by Francisco J. Lombardi (best director, San Sebastián), the Peruvian film La ciudad y los perros is based on Mario Vargas Llosa’s novel, whose Faulknerian presentation, sophisticated and complex, has been replaced by a simplified, linear procedure. The book’s multiple subjective narrations suggest three things at least: Peru’s fractured identity; the interchangeability of characters, given the imposition of the military mindset; the difficulty of an individual to stand alone when group identity is the mechanism by which one is permitted to “speak.” The film’s protagonist is The Poet, who is neither the strongest nor the most sensitive in his circle of four cadets at a boys’ military school, but the one who best balances sensitivity and strength. The school’s three “principles,” discipline, morality and hard work, summarize an official militaristic credo.
The central event is a chemistry exam cheating conspiracy that results in the public expulsion of one student and, during militaristic exercises, the shooting death of another, which the school endeavors to cover up as a fatal accidental self-inflicted gunshot: the unofficial military tack of passing the buck. There are further dire results.
The whole atmosphere reeks of exposé, which continues the sensationalism of early scenes in which seniors “baptize” new cadets by making them “walk” on all fours and be yanked by neck-tied leashes.
The most interesting of the boys is Jaguar. At the outset we see him confront the seniors who would subdue him for a whipping by flicking a strap of his own and in the process bloodily striping the faces of two of the aggressors. Jaguar’s is an image of heroic defiance and strength. Only later do we catch up with the desperation and sheer terror that were motivating him.
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