Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

July 25, 2020

Days of the Whale

Filed under: Colombia,Film — louisproyect @ 6:33 pm

Now available as virtual cinema, “Days of the Whale” is set in Medellin, Colombia and tells the story of two young street artists contending with street gangs. Given the provenance of both factions, it is not surprising that nearly the entire film takes place on the gritty streets of a city that will always be associated with Pablo Escobar and violence.

When I was in high school, my English teacher Fred Madeo, who was just one of a number of radical-minded faculty members keeping his politics close to his vest, clued us in on “Hedda Gabler”. He said that in act one, you see a pistol being handled by Hedda Gabler. Whenever you see a pistol, a knife, etc., in act one of a play, you are primed to expect some kind of tragedy by the final act.

In “Days of the Whale”, instead of a weapon, you get a gangster warning Simón (David Escallón Orrego), one of the film’s young co-stars, that unless he pays for the “right” to do art on the city’s walls, he might get killed. His girlfriend and fellow artist Cristina (Laura Tobón Ochoa) both put up brave fronts against this threat but you cannot help but feel that they are doomed. Even though most of the film shows them happily at work in an art form that is truly proletarian, you keep waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Despite the threat of violence, this is really much more of a love story and a very good one at that. As much as they love each other, another threat hangs over their head, namely one of being separated through no fault of their own. Cristina’s mother is an investigative reporter whose opposition to the city’s gang world has forced her to move to Spain because of threats on her life. Simón, who comes from a working-class background and who even was a gang member when younger, is torn between loving her and anger over being abandoned. To fight against both threats, they put their heart and soul into their artwork as if each day was their last.

Neither of the co-stars are professional actors. The director-writer Catalina Arroyave Restrepo decided that this would give the film authenticity and she was right. In the press notes, she said that John Cassavetes’s films were an influence. It shows. Her statement on what motivated her to make “Days of the Whale” conveys the hunger of young Colombians for a different way of living in a country degraded by almost a century of dictatorship, corruption, and criminality:

I have always been obsessed with freedom, and that took me to write a story about my discontempt [sic] with that criminal reality and the desire of rebelling against it. I started fantasizing about using the stories that my graffiti artist friends told me about their adventures in the streets, dealing with the owners of each territory, and also with using the colors, rhythm and textures of this universe to make a film. That’s how Days of the whale was conceived.

Highly recommended.

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