Jesús: In the dead of night
by Fabien Lemercier
- SAN SEBASTIAN 2016: Having risen to prominence with Dog Flesh, Fernando Guzzoni is back with a dark and bitter film, directed with great skill
The winner of the award for Best Film in the New Directors section at San Sebastián in 2012 with his debut feature film, the morose Dog Flesh [+see also:
film profile], Chilean filmmaker Fernando Guzzoni has this time moved up a level at the Basque festival, with Jesús [+see also:
film profile], which was presented in the official competition, having just had its world premiere at Toronto. But moving up in the world hasn’t altered the filmmaker’s cutting style, with a new opus as dark as its predecessor. This time he focuses on the question of ‘sin’ and guilt from the point of view of youth and the present after exploring it through the filter of the past, curtly broaching the issue of the ethical dilemma surrounding a main character teetering on the edge of the abyss who only just garners any sort of empathy from the viewer.
A stylistically very skilful dive under the surface of documentary realism which details the drifting of teenagers left to their own devices at night in Santiago, the film unwinds its parable in two rather distinct parts. First the screenplay, which was written by the director, gives meticulous details of the everyday reality of the protagonist, Jesús (Nicolás Durán), a young 18-year-old on the verge of dropping out of school, who lives alone with his father (Alejandro Goic), a widower who is seldom home and with whom communication is minimal and mutual incomprehension is at an all time high (with gloomy dinners in front of the television, constant rowing over glasses that need fixing and mobile phones that need buying, mechanical orders to work hard at school). With the exception of his passion for K-pop dance and fleeting affairs (he is secretly bisexual), what the impressionable Jesús seems most invested in is a group of friends bordering on delinquents, who spend their evenings getting pissed on piscolas in a park (actually a cemetery) and sniggering at a Mexican video of the Gulf Cartel slitting the throat of a Zeta. A wandering existence that ends tragically, when one evening the four of them beat up a young stranger to the point of putting him into a coma. The event swings the narrative into a father-son confrontation, with Jesús having to face the consequences of his actions (the burden of guilt, threats from his partners in crime) and his father having to decide how far he’s willing to go to protect his son.
Imbued with striking realism, the film owes much of its impact to the exceptional photography by Barbara Alvarez (who also worked on Dog Flesh and was acclaimed most notably for The Headless Woman [+see also:
film profile] and The Second Mother), who skilfully plays with the shadows of night and gives the director the perfect conditions for injecting his style, full of menacing atmospheres, and sketching a counter-relief of a Chilean society that is brutal and troubled. An uncompromising portrait painted with a series of shocking and overwhelming sequences in keeping with a certain trend in contemporary Latin-American cinema (Reygadas, Escalante, Franco), which loves to mix the tight control of the direction and tempo with impulsive surges and sudden twists in the narrative. This inclination towards sudden outbursts, most notably carnal outbursts, the overabundance of which could, no doubt, be called into question and will disgust the more sensitive of souls, nonetheless accurately illustrates the shadowy downward spiral that leads Jesús towards the catharsis of his decision. It will be interesting to see what direction Fernando Guzzoni, a filmmaker who is clearly very gifted, decides to take in the future, after these two films which stubbornly plumb the depths of the obscure.
(Translated from French)