La Colonia Penal (Raúl Ruiz / Chile, 1970):

A subterranean reading of Kafka that envisions the rise of Latin American dictatorships as a burgeoning export business, a deadpan fable with the Raúl Ruiz style already in full sway. The island of Captiva is a former penitentiary recently granted independence, filmed like an overgrown sandbox with legionnaires marching in circles and clotheslines silhouetted against the sky. The guano trade avails El Presidente (Luis Alarcón) no more, the product now is the reportage of oppression and torture, tales of Third World atrocities sold abroad for bourgeois consumption. (The joke is dilated from a Citizen Kane line: "You provide the prose, I’ll provide the war.") Long, blank corridors mask continuous upheaval, residents speak a nonsensical blend of Spanish and English ("not really a language, it changes every day"), the leader’s saber-rattling music lesson is interrupted by a battered jailbird sprawled on the cabinet floor. Through this wanders the visiting reporter (Mónica Echeverría), notepad and cheery condescension always ready. At the Turismo Hotel, the shaggy Minister (Aníbal Reyna) toasts her with the hot water bottle he produces from within his suit; deep in the dictator’s catacombs, political prisoners are stripped and stretched -- her reaction to each and every absurdity is the practiced smile of the seasoned buyer being offered new merchandise. "Read these poems, then memorize and burn them." Gabriel García Márquez and Carlos Fuentes are name-checked, but the teasing, inquisitive disorientation is all Ruiz’s own, beginning with the multi-layered shot of the journalist remembering a dream ("The trees had all fallen and there was music, some kind of party...") while slumped on a chair, framed between two doors with a sword duel outside reflected on the glass. Woody Allen in Bananas is just a stone’s throw away, so are military juntas and conglomerates of manufactured news. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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