Camila Loboguerrero is a cinematic heavyweight with director bona fides beginning with being Colombia’s first woman to direct a feature-length film. That wouldn’t mean as much if it weren’t for the type of stories Loboguerrero attempts to tell and her success in telling them.
A sweeping look at her biography shows us that while Loboguerrero was a professor of art history, she was drawn to the medium of film for her storytelling. Noteworthy in this regard is her award-winning historical biopic of a woman who championed workers rights, literacy and the women’s suffrage movement in Columbia, María de los Angeles Cano Márquez. It is Loboguerrero who returns again with her third feature film and next selection of The REEL Film Club’s featured film, Christmas Night (Nochebuena).
Written over the course of a year with her son (who also starred in the film) typing away at the keyboard, team Loboguerrero penned a script that attempts to capture the complexities of the financial meltdown of 2008 as manifest in the downfall of a wealthy family…during the holidays.
This seems like a lot to pack into a film. And it is just this gratuitous nature – gluttony, even – that makes Christmas Night strangely appropriate. In the end, you’re left wondering: What does it all mean?
Loboguerrero chose to tell such a story as a comedy, a very, very dark comedy. But it’s not just that it is a dark comedy; the opening credits sparkle on the screen with silly animations evoking the silliness of National Lampoons Christmas Vacation. The music reminds us of that which we’d find in a Nora Ephron film such as You’ve Got Mail. And let’s not forget that this is a film about family around the holidays. You might think of one of the best films of this genre, Home for the Holidays. All of these movies and what they represent form a confluence with their animation, music and genre in the movie of Christmas Night. It becomes not only distracting but dizzying. Scene after scene, we experience things like adultery and corruption scored as if this were a chick flick. We become putty as we’re pulled in opposing directions—Levity and silliness sandwiched around deceit and corruption.
Adding to the effect is the pronounced allegory. Because this is a film about the money crisis we’re still in, we need a money guy who lies and steals his way into failure and leaving in his wake the destruction of – in this case – those closest to him. Cue: Bernardo, real life son of Loboguerrero and co-writer of the film, Matias Maldonado, and onscreen son, brother, adulterer, thief and eventually, whore. And just in case we don’t get the point, Bernardo is also an amateur magician. In effect, we see an argument play out that we – Columbia, the US and while we’re at it, the entire world – experienced something tantamount to a magic act. All of this is fully realized in the character of Bernardo. What Maldonado especially excels at is how charming and lovable he comes across on screen, affecting even we in the pews to want the lies to become truths and the base sex and adultery to be markers of inevitable true love. To Loboguerrero’s credit, just this part of the movie feels like a magic act come true.
Eventually, Christmas Night ends in a fiery climax that lofts to the rafters of the ridiculous. The storytelling seems a bit thin, the characters seem a bit simple. The overall effect, however, is truly a work of art. In this way, it makes the experience of the movie more on par with a sensation rather than a story. Thinking about the allegory makes the movie more clever the more you think about it. It’s a great example of how art makes something as uncomfortable as a sad song or a movie about a family being swindled out of money into something worth paying to watch.