Saturday, April 27, 2013

La Playa D.C. [2012]

MPAA (UR would be R)   Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing

La Playa D.C. [2012] (written and directed by Juan Andrés Arango Garcia) is a simple yet well crafted Afro-Colombian film playing Apr 26-May 3, 2013 at Facets Multimedia Theater in Chicago.  It's about an Afro-Colombian teenager named Tomás (played by Luis Carlos Guevara) whose family had recently migrated from the countryside to the slums at the outskirts of Bogota.  Why?  There'd be plenty of reasons: poverty/ongoing violence in the countryside, the death of (abandonment by) the father of the family, etc.  In any case, the family felt compelled to move, and as expected the move proved to be difficult.

With the father out of the picture, the mother had entered into a relationship with a Bogota local, a security guard with whom the children, above all, the story's central protagonist, teenage Tomás, had difficulty. Indeed, the conflict had proven so great that the film pretty much begins with the mother's new man giving her an ultimatum: Either Tomás leaves home or he's gonna leave her.  The mother with a new baby (presumably with her new man) and with few options, reluctantly asks Tomás to leave.

Tomás packs up his things (in what would be a single school backpack) and heads out.  He does have an older brother who lives on his own, in a single room (with simple mat for a bed) further in town.  The older brother talks to his landlady, explains to her the situation (above all that Tomás is a relation and not a potential lover), they make an arrangement and Tomás now has a roof over his head.

Much of what follows is about Tomás figuring out a way to make a livelihood.  Fortunately he did have a small talent/skill: he liked/knew how to draw.  Now normally that skill and a few bits of change would get you a cup of coffee... However, Tomás had the sense to turn that small skill into something that could make some money: he decided to try to become a barber offering to shave those those little pictures/designs that he'd draw into peoples hair for a small fee.  Even for this, however, he still needed to make some money -- to buy a few razor blades and then a set of electrical clippers.  Tomás made a deal with a somewhat more established barber and seemed to be on his way to make enough money to buy the electric clippers that the more established barber had lent him.

All would be wonderful (or at least more manageable) if not for Tomás having a younger brother, honestly no more than 10-12 years old, who had become addicted to Colombia's equivalent of crack cocaine.  At first, Tomás along with the rest of his family (including his mother who had thrown him out of her house) had been simply looking for this younger member of the family who had disappeared into the streets of Bogota soon after Tomás thrown out of the house.  Since Tomás had that skill of being able to draw, he even created some simple "missing child" posters that he put-up with moderate success around the neighborhood (some of the shopkeepers weren't too keen these "missing child" posters near their stores (they tended to depress people or make the neighborhood appear more dangerous than they would have liked it to appear).

But when Tomás finds his brother, new problems arise.  After all, Tomás' younger brother is addicted to drugs which cost money, money that really no one in Tomás' family had.  So here's Tomás trying to hustle up enough business with his borrowed clippers and a few razors cutting/shaving designs into people's hair hoping to eventually save enough money to buy those clippers from the good man who had lent them to him.  IN THE MEANTIME there's his younger brother consuming more crack than he could pay for ... with thugs (not particularly big thugs but enough of them) beginning to circle 'round Tomás to try to shake him down for the money that his younger brother owed.  What a nightmare... Eventually something has to give, and it does ...

La Playa D.C. is a sad but obviously poignant glimpse into the struggles of a simple afro-Colombian family living at the edge (margins) of a big city in Colombia today.  It's also a reminder how drug addiction, already a problem when a family has some means, becomes an almost unbearable burden (and certainly life and death struggle) when one's family is poor.  All in all a very good if very sad film.

ADDENDUM - My religious order, the Servants of Mary, has its own experience working in Latin America (Brazil) with families already facing marginalization and difficult circumstances struggling on top of that with drug addiction at the home.  Here's a link to a chapter on the subject from the book produced by the Brazilian Servites on The Amazonia We Do Not Know (2006)

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