Perro Bomba: : 5th Gustavus Latinx Film Festival

Posted on March 15th, 2021 by

Despite being the directorial debut of Juan Cáceres, Perro bomba manages to present an  extremely compelling and nuanced look at the vulnerabilities experienced by Haitian immigrants  in Chile. The film follows Steevens, an established Haitian immigrant who, at first glance, seems  to be leading a reasonably comfortable life. He has friends, a job, a roof over his head, and more  than anything else, a community of people who support him. However, it quickly becomes  apparent how precarious his situation his. After punching his fiercely racist boss, everything that  he once had vanishes in an instant, forcing him onto the streets in a fight for survival against an  unforgiving world. It’s a compelling narrative on its own, but there are so many layers to the film  that Gustavus had to hold an online discussion, featuring Doctor Sharon Marquart and Doctor  Anna Versluis, to be able to do the film justice. 

One particularly noteworthy aspect of the film is its devotion to realism and its generally  grounded atmosphere. You won’t find any high-speed car chases, lengthy fight scenes,  melodramatic monologues, or even any particularly witty dialogue here. The closest the film gets  to an action scene is when Steevens lightly jogs away from a few police cars, but by no means is  the film boring. In fact, the film is so engaging precisely because everything looks and, more  importantly, feels real. This even extends to the actors, as many of them, including Steevens  Benjamin who plays the main character, are actually Haitian immigrants themselves. All of this  lends itself to give the film a lot more weight, both dramatically and in terms of the message it  conveys. It is this sense of realism that creates the vast majority of the tension seen in the film. 

Eventually, every scene becomes filled with tension, especially once Steevens’ living situation  becomes more and more desperate, while we the audience legitimately do not know if he’ll be  able to make it through the movie. A happy ending is by no means guaranteed for immigrants  

living in the real world, so why should that be the case in a movie that seeks to portray the  experiences of one? When the film actually did reach its conclusion, I couldn’t help but let out a  sigh of relief that Steevens was able to find a pseudo-permanent home, and yet the ending is also  fairly bittersweet, as his struggle is far from over. Although he’s caught a break now, for an  immigrant in such a precarious position, the future is never certain 

Of course, while Perro bomba does its best to keep the audience immersed, there are a  handful of moments that intentionally break from this trend. These moments come in the form of  brief musical interludes that break up the movie at various points. They vary wildly in tone, but  they all consist of a single song being played in some place that’s generally far-removed from the  actual plot. Sometimes the people onscreen are the ones singing the songs, other times not, but  there’s always someone present. Are these moments a little bit strange? Yes, but they’re also  quite endearing. It provides a moment of rest for the audience amongst the sea of turbulent and  stressful events that make up a lot of the film’s runtime. Furthermore, besides just being pleasant  to listen to, the songs oftentimes reflect the current emotional state of Steevens, expressing a  more nuanced view of the situation than mere words or looks can show. Honestly, it’s a brilliant  technique that’s serves both the narrative purpose of conveying emotions to the audience and the  structural purpose of giving the audience a break while also neatly dividing up the movie into  distinct sections. 

Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention some criticisms. For one, the film is quite  slow at the beginning, as the main conflict doesn’t arise until more than a third of the way through it, so it can certainly feel a little plotless at times. Furthermore, as was pointed out in the  online discussion, there are a few cultural inaccuracies, such as when Steevens is barred from  entering church due to his hair or the way in which Steevens’ life is inaccurately portrayed as ideal by Haitian standards. There are other small nitpicks that one could make about the movie,  but the point is, it is by no means perfect. That being said, I would still strongly recommend  Perro bomba to anyone who’s even remotely interested in the subject matter. It presents the  extreme difficulties faced by immigrants, specifically Haitian immigrants, in such a compelling  and unique way. Additionally, the music, realistic aesthetic, characters, and storytelling are all  excellent. Perro bomba is a truly wonderful movie, one that will undoubtedly keep you thinking for days on end.

Jasper Johnson ’22

The 5th Gustavus Latinx Film Festival is made possible thanks to a PRAGDA Spanish Film Club Grant awarded by Spain’s Ministry of Culture. It is co-sponsored by the Department of Modern Languages, Literatures and Cultures; and the Latin American, Latinx and Caribbean Studies Program.

Access Festival Schedule and films: https://lalacs.blog.gustavus.edu/2021/02/01/5th-gustavus-latinx-film-festival/

We hope you can join us for the next showing and Q&A, Neither Hero Nor Traitor.

 

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