A former Peruvian soldier finds the city more bloodthirsty than the battlefield in Josué Méndez’s assured debut Días de Santiago
Días de Santiago
Josué Méndez, Peru
2004, Chullachaki Producciones
83 minutes (Spanish with English subtitles)
Reviewed by Georgina Jiménez
LATAMROB rating: ****
JOSUÉ MÉNDEZ is angry. The statement that this promising young director’s makes in the assured Días de Santiago is the cinematic equivalent of Look Back in Anger for the harshness and reality it employs to criticise what he sees in his native Peru.
Although it has been compared with Taxi Driver – mainly because of superficial similarities in the plot with Martin Scorsese’s classic – this examination of post-traumatic stress is also a novel attempt to bring up the cost of the country’s messy civil war.
It is important as much for the pioneering effort it makes to address a legacy of political authoritarianism that has been all-but ignored, and the poverty that prevails despite the sacrifices demanded by authoritarian leaders, as for being such a slick cinematic debut.
For much of the period 1980-92, government forces in Peru confronted the formidable Maoist guerrilla army of Sendero Luminoso in a vicious conflict. Up to 70,000 people died in the rebellion and the counter-insurgency campaign it triggered. Today, Sendero Luminoso remains active, if fatally weakened by government military successes. But the cost to Peruvians in terms of lost rights and shattered lives was arguably much greater.
If it does not explore the politics of the conflict per se, Días de Santiago is still a political film for delving into the human price of peace and the social issues that continue to plague Peru, albeit through the familiar vector of one veteran’s travails.
Chaotic urban jungle
Santiago (Pietro Sibille) is a 23-year-old former elite soldier suffering grave problems of readjustment to civilian life after his immersion in the bloodbath.
Unable to relate to his wife and family and finding it impossible to slot back into the chaotic urban jungle, he craves the security of a minutely ordered, high-adrenalin lifestyle in which everything is black and white, kill or be killed.
Méndez skilfully uses mono footage to suggest this institutionalised character’s desire for clarity amid colour scenes portraying the many hues that in fact comprise the chaotic reality of Lima that he struggles so hard to comprehend.
Sibille is a revelation, magisterially portraying the confused former soldier with a conviction and slow-burning anger that is disturbingly plausible. His inner angst and physical presence creates a pressure cooker of rage always about to explode.
Méndez contrasts the former soldier’s austerity and probity sharply with the venal and greedy civilians the protagonist encounters. His confusion at their lack of patriotic mores is enhanced by their loose morals.
While the director has borrowed techniques and narrative elements from other films, Peru is not known for its cinematic achievements and, on its behalf, Méndez has gatecrashed the party of Latin America’s angry young men.
Georgina Jiménez is a freelance Mexican writer