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Tuesday, November 27, 2012 | Reception 6pm, Screening 7pm | Facets Multimedia, 1517 W. Fullerton Ave | Ticket Cost: $20 or 2 for $30 |
Billed as a dark comedy involving three vivacious women gunned down by three troubled men who were manipulated and spurred on by nothing less than the Colombian government—my sides are aching already—this month’s Reel Film Club selection, Colombian Postcards/Postales Colombianas, isn’t funny ha-ha or even funny peculiar. No, the newest movie from director Ricardo Coral Dorado is funny in a way that warrants, perhaps, a new understanding of funny.
Dark comedies can be the most moving because their subject matter resonates with us more than anything else. All of us have had to deal with death or loss or danger—darkness of some sort. When these things happen, some of us crack. But most of us (forgive the bad writing here) crack a joke first. We laugh. We’re hysterical. We smile. We remove ourselves from the situation for a moment and in a gesture of civility, slip back into the safety of normalcy for a laugh, for sanity. Yes, people might be dying. Yes, the boat is sinking. Yes, we have no money. But funny is funny, and for important reasons, our brains find the funny, no matter what.
Colombian Postcards’ brand of dark comedy is different, and because of that, it’s brilliant. Split up into chapters emblazoned with titles such as “The Women,” “Hand Break” and “Blessed Be My God,” Dorado works hard to shepherd our attention into sections. It’s a useful tool in the storyteller’s arsenal, for the title becomes a northern star for the viewer, rendering us focused and because of that, distracted.
It’s a surprise, then, when Coral Dorado scrambles the storyline into a mishmash of scenes. This forms the crux for why this movie works because it transforms the horrible into something of a puzzle or curiosity piece. Instead of sitting, no—sinking—in your seat as this tragic, distressing tale unspools, Columbian Postcards lulls you into thinking everything will be alright, intrigues you with moments of philosophical swordplay, catapults you into the rafters enjoyed by only God and the omniscient storyteller who knows what the future holds but doesn’t know exactly how we got there. It reminds you that there’s more to comedy than just laughs. You suspend the heavier equipment of your decision-making processes and let the movie happen as you become aware that what you’ve seen hasn’t really happened yet. But she is dead. This makes it funnier that she just made a dick joke. But she is dead. They’re talking about causality. But she is dead. You stop sinking in your seat. You try to pay attention to the piddling things they do and why those things might bring death. You try.
There’s a scene in which the ladies are all together sipping coffee and discussing the most recent documentary Piedad (Luz Stella Luengas) has penned. “There you are. That’s it,” she groans as she closes her laptop. “It’s about the two commandments about being Columbian,” she goes on. “First, don’t get taken advantage of, and second, if someone is really asking for it, take advantage of them.” Silence.
Slowly, Fanny (Adriana Campos) and Caridad (Alexandra Escobar) weigh in. “In Columbian terms,” Fanny retorts, “the whole idea of ‘dar papaya’— It’s something that we use here, but will it really translate over there?” Coral Dorado allows us a glimpse into a sophisticated internal argument happening within Colombia, something that Piedad fleshes out later, that everything can be distilled down to this state of nature that seems to be very much alive and well within the borders of Colombia and yet, as Caridad points out, her own experiences suggest otherwise.
But we know what happens to Caridad and the others. We knew before we sat down. But then a penis joke is made. The ladies laugh. Then Fanny brings up, as one does, Jorge Luis Borges’ and his quote about the paradox of chance. She even goes so far as to quote a line, but not before they discuss “that lady who had a potted plant fall on her head” and how terrible that was. It’s a gutsy move to bring Borges into a story, for philosophy and metaphysics usually don’t fare well in cinema. But then there was The Matrix…
Coral Dorado doesn’t forget that this is also a visual as well as aural medium. In a scene or chapter entitled, “Blessed Be My God,” we see Caridad riding in the backseat of a taxi. She moves in and out of focus as the driver banters with her about the weather, about society, about God. Whether you become conscious of it or not, a window sticker outlining the face of Jesus Christ, thorns and all (at least in my memory), flickers alive as they pass by lights. Only the light is bent and broken because of the rain, and only the image seems to be more menacing than comforting. At the same time, the soft focus abstracts a beauty to this macabre scene. It’s a subtlety that spans across not just the cinematography and dialogue but the music as well.
A Dr. Evil-like character is talking with one of his henchmen on top of a building. He slithers around the shorter, weaker man, pausing now and then behind him as they both look out at the city below. Strings perforate the scene much like a sharp knife to a stretched skin or possible traffic noises wafting up like shards in your ear. These occasional sounds are strings, discordant and strange. Most of the film goes unscored, so this scene with its minimalist John Cage-like approach to the score seems to stick out, mulcting us out of any sort of complacency we might have developed.
Columbian Postcards is not just inspired by true events too familiar to Colombians and minted by the United Nations via official report on March 31st, 2010. It’s an attempt to capture what this report so blithely metes out in a wilderness where there is much too much silence. And he tries to do this through nothing more than the best type of storytelling.