You may recall that I named Los viajes del viento—The Wind Journeys—the best film of 2009. It is the thoughtful, inspired work of a Colombian kid in his twenties, writer-director Ciro Guerra. Now I have seen Guerra’s earlier The Wandering Shadow, an extraordinary low-budget, black-and-white feature debut. It revolves around the new friendship between two impoverished men in Bogotá, one homeless, the other, long behind in paying rent, nearly homeless. Both (as I am) are legally blind; one of them carries around in his brain a bullet—the mark of a political execution that went awry. Each becomes the other’s protector; both bear the scars ofColombia’s tortured political past. At the same time, in a kind of psychological allegory, both men exist as complementary parts of the fractured, embittered national psyche and personality.
The otherwise anonymous “El hombre de la silla” is burdened by his past; in addition to the bullet lodged in his brain, he carries on his back the chair by which he ekes out a sub-subsistent living as a silletero, carrying men, one at a time, throughout downtown Bogotá. He does so illegally, unable to afford a business license. As a result, he is forever running away from the law—a fleet, elusive shadow. He does get caught, however, and Mañe, his new friend, possesses the means to play the corruption-game with the police, blackmailing them to secure a license for him. Anonymous’s chair is, at some level, akin to the Cross that Jesus totes to his crucifixion.
Mañe has one leg missing: a mark of the burden of the past that he bears, which includes the slaughter of both his parents. Vicious boys in the street continually harass him, trip him to the ground, kick and beat him—scenes reminiscent of ones in Luis Buñuel’s Los olvidados (1950), except that Guerra’s film is so vivid and fresh that it reflects reality more than it recalls other films. Yet Buñuel doubtless hovers near Guerra’s brilliant material. In one bravura passage, for instance, a subjective camera records Mañe’s flight—across rain-dappled and, eventually, rain-soaked ground—that turns out to have been a dream.
Eventually . . . eventually . . . secrets of Anonymous’s past tumble out, and the unholy kinship between him and Mañe taxes their friendship to the limit of a freshly dug grave. How does one adequately respond to such horrific revelations? Perhaps: May there be a God, and may God forgive us.
The Wandering Shadow richly deserves its prizes for young Guerra: the Films-in-Progress Award, San Sebastián; the audience award, Toulouse Latin America Film Festival; besf first film, Trieste Festival of Latin-American Cinema.
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