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Review: Mi bestia


- CANNES 2024: The devil is in the details in Camila Beltrán’s debut feature, following a teenage girl’s transformation in 1990s Bogotá, as the city readies itself for the arrival of Satan

Review: Mi bestia
Mallely Aleyda Murillo Rivas (left) and Stella Martínez in Mi bestia

Eclipses have begotten countless superstitions across cultures and through history: the untimely destruction of the Sun or Moon, the wrath of a higher being brought down, or even the godly consumption of these heavenly bodies. One of the starkest folkloric symbols is that of the total lunar eclipse – also known as a blood moon owing to the celestial object’s prominent scarlet-red glow. With her first feature, Mi bestia, Colombian director Camila Beltrán (known for her short Pacífico Oscuro, selected for the 2020 Locarno Film Festival) draws from this breadth of mythology to inform a striking, stylised coming-of-age story in 1996 Bogotá, Colombia, where what’s human is perhaps the most inhuman of all. Co-written by Beltrán and Silvina Schnicer, the film has just enjoyed its premiere in the ACID parallel strand of this year’s Cannes Film Festival.

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Introverted 13-year-old Mila (Stella Martínez) endures tough school and personal lives, tossed between a strict Catholic academic upbringing – with nuns warning of the coming of the devil during the lunar eclipse – and a complex home environment. As Mila’s mother (Marcela Mar) works night shifts, she dispatches her eerily vigilant boyfriend David (Héctor Sánchez) to watch over the teen’s every move with the repeated utterance that Bogotá is unsafe for women, coupled with news broadcasts of the disappearance of young girls from low-income families. Changes in Mila’s body, conversations on sexual assault with the family’s domestic worker Dora (Mallely Aleyda Murillo Rivas) and an incident with her crush, Miguel Ángel (Felipe Ramírez), lead up to the fateful day of the eclipse and the culmination of the teen’s personal evolution.

Beltrán offers viewers delicious hints of genre aesthetics throughout with touches of the supernatural, but her crowning achievement is that Mi bestia remains fresh and unexpected through to the very end. Bringing forth a nostalgic, low-budget 1990s cult-film feel without sacrificing the storytelling, the flick’s standout technique (cinematography by Sylvain Verdet) is the use of a slow frame rate in several sequences, placing the audience immediately into the protagonist’s state of being, as if walking through water. This transforms our comprehension of Mila’s perception of time and space, where patriarchal intentions weigh far heavier on the women of Bogotá than creatures of the night ever do. With the help of Sánchez’s unflinchingly inscrutable visage, the adults’ mouths, in particular, are framed up close and personally, a menacing piece of a larger puzzle.

One scene in particular highlights the horror-inspired orchestral score (original music by Wissam Hojeij), effectively drawing from tropes of the genre – the buzzing of a sudden power outage, the echoing burst of a girl laughing. The film’s comprehensive usage of diegetic music is also complemented by the beating of pulsating drums and the whistling of passing whispers (sound design by Juan Felipe Rayo, Damien Tronchot and Frédéric Hamelin): does this suggest a darker world, or is it just a thrumming undercurrent to daily life? Martínez exceptionally plays Mila with unrivalled angst, a symphony of emotions boiling beneath the surface. So perhaps this is simply just the mind of a teenage girl whose troubles deserve to be taken seriously – and a glimpse of what happens when they aren’t.

Mi bestia is a Colombian-French production staged by Felina Films and Films Grand Huit, and co-produced by Ganas Producciones and Inercia Películas. Its world sales are managed by Pulsar Content.

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