Magallanes | 2015 TIFF Review
On the Horizon of Redemption: Del Solar’s Impressive Debut a Historically Relevant Neo-Noir
The sins of the recent past infect Peruvian actor Salvador del Solar’s stellar directorial debut, Magallanes, based on the novel La Pasajera by Alonso Cueto (Black Butterfly, 2006). A rich tapestry of characters involved in a compelling and nasty case of blackmail enhances the pulse of this compelling neo-noir, whose present is informed by the violent social revolution of the Shining Path insurgency, Peru’s communist party faction. The infamous organization, deemed terrorist by the government, waged a decade long conflict that worsened significantly when the military declared a state of emergency in outlying regions of the country, resulting in further abuse and corruption of power. With countless vicious cruelties that went unpunished, del Solar recounts a tortured redemption of sorts for one of them in this well-performed, intriguing drama.
Harvey Magallanes (Damian Alcazar) is a taxi driver in Peru, whose world is turned upside down one day when Celina (Magaly Solier) gets into his cab. He follows her inside to her destination, a self-help convention where we learn the woman is seeking help to save her struggling hair salon. Eventually, we learn the woman was someone Magallanes had abducted in the past when he served a brutal colonel (Federico Luppi) in the Peruvian military. During the conflict with the Shining Path insurgency, the colonel had locked up Celina for over a year in his hotel room and used her as a sex slave. Magallanes has the pictures to prove it, and eerily, he still works for the colonel’s family, taking the old codger, now suffering from Alzheimer’s, out for drives. With the help of his old cohorts, Magallanes aims to blackmail the colonel’s son, a prominent doctor, and use the money to lift both himself and Celina out of poverty. But we all know what happens with the best laid plans of mice and men.
We’ve seen countless film noirs and neo-noirs examining the fallout of devious Nazi dealings following WWII and Magallanes feels very much in line with this tradition of historically dictated crime cinema, where the united wrongs of past and present attempt to make a right. Celebrated Mexican actor Damian Alcazar is excellent as the eponymous lead, a taxi cab driver who sees a chance to liberate himself from the yoke of his socioeconomic burden and court redemption for his involvement in shady dealings while serving the Peruvian military.
The incredibly beautiful Magaly Solier, who starred in Claudia Llosa’s first two features (Madeinusa; The Milk of Sorrow) as well as the enigmatic Altiplano (2009) is quite emotionally effective here as the struggling hairstylist valiantly trying to keep her shop open in spite of a pitiless loan shark’s cruelty. Secrets are revealed about both of these leading characters, their fates inexorably intertwined despite both their attempts to forget the past, leading to an exemplary and passionate outburst from the victimized Celina.
Del Solar quickly and quietly tightens the screws as Magallanes gets increasingly in over his head, the tension heightened thanks to just enough details about the sordid past involving the colonel and his sex toy, which seems to open a yawning abyss of continual disadvantage for Celina while the colonel’s son prospers mightily thanks to the family’s commitment to an unsympathetic government. Argentinean actor Federico Luppi, often a figure in the cinema of Guillermo del Toro is also of note, a man who may remember more than his diagnosis of Alzheimer’s would have one otherwise believe.
Despite the assumed horrors Magallanes must have committed in his allegiance to the military and his commanding officer, he’s presented empathetically, even if we ultimately cannot be brought to forgive him, either. After all, he’s motivated by his own unrequited love for Celina, a woman he helped kidnap, hold hostage, and rape before assisting her escape. Their relationship, and Celina’s horrific past hold us in a macabre trance, and while the notion of actual justice is nowhere to be seen, del Solar leaves us in a thick, ugly stew of regret.
Reviewed on September 15th at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival – Contemporary World Cinema Program. 109 Mins.