Director – Lisandro Duque
Two struggling Colombian actors (Mario Duarte and Vicente Luna) and an actress from Venezuela (Coraima Torres) finally find a possible sponsor for their work onstage. Their benefactor is heading to Spain, and asks the actor named Alvaro to keep some boxes full of books in his apartment as a favor while he travels to Spain. There is one box, covered in red masking tape, that is full of business of no concern to an actor, that he is never, ever supposed to open. Mario is cool with it; after all, this guy is his ticket out of poverty! He wasn’t planning on opening any of the boxes, why start trouble?
Then the actors then hear on the news that the man was detained in Spain for laundering money. The group begins opening the boxes, finding most of them filled with books. But the box with the red tape, well, that one is full of assault rifles. This is a conundrum; if the actors tell the authorities about the guns, the owners of the weapons might take revenge on the tattlers. They decide to try a different way out; they will use their skills in the dramatic arts to pretend to be guerillas. They will bury the guns in a ditch in southern Colombia, and then tell the authorities that they want to “give themselves up” and tell where the weapons are. Using a priest well-known for communicating secretly with guerillas in the same situation, they will have him ask the Office of the High Commission for Peace to grant them asylum in Spain, where they imagine they can actually make some money as actors.
The three go to a small town in the llanos (plains) region a few hours southwest of Bogota, where they make some money being mimes in the town square. Mario wears a fake moustache and pretends to be a guerilla, speaking to a priest in a confessional booth to set the whole plot into motion, but with the strictest confidentiality. While in the llanos, however, they manage to get themselves entangled in the conflict for real, running into guerillas, paramilitaries, and the Colombian army. The men are both kidnapped. What started as a joke soon becomes all too real, and the men start to get second thoughts about using the armed conflict to get rich when so many are still suffering, especially those languishing kidnapping victims in FARC camps waiting for their release.
The film is an awkward dance around a heavy subject. The actors are sarcastic and practically nihilist about Colombia’s problems at the beginning, upset with their own insolvency and little else. The FARC camp scenes are quite lighthearted. There’s no killing, and no real brutality. The prisoners seem to be free to move around, even as some of them go insane. After giving a glowing revolutionary monologue from one of his own plays, FARC actually lets Duarte go free, a little too convenient to the plot for my tastes. The paramilitaries seem only slightly more threatening, but everyone seems just a tad too cuddly to match up to the sad, gruesome reality. There is also a love scene with a guerillera who wants to get out of the game, and at that point the movie just flies off the rails into fantasy land. We should all be so lucky if we get kidnapped!
The endless intractable violent conflict in Colombia certainly lends itself to dark comedy, but not to wishful thinking. There is a lot to like in this movie; it won the audience award at the Cartagena Film Festival for a reason. It aches for peace and condemns all the illegal armed groups perpetuating the conflict. Although it had a budget of under a million US dollars, it doesn’t look like it. During production, the cast and crew actually had to flee paramilitaries in the town of San Martin, and the film’s earnestness in the face of such threats is well-intentioned. But its fever dream of reluctant FARC members and bumbling paramilitaries is a little too much to swallow.