Dir. Rodrigo Bellott. Bolivia/USA, 2003. 105 mins.
What festival can resist the temptation of a film-making debut from a 25-year-old Bolivian director - especially when it is shown on a split screen and has a title like this to boot' Even if Rodrigo Bellott's debut does not deliver as much as its pedigree promises, these five disenchanted portraits of adolescence intersecting at strange angles with each other, will most probably travel far and wide across the festival map, and find a comfortable niche in related youth-oriented market. The film screened in competition at Locarno.
Taken separately, each of the five stories is pretty straightforward. The first, My Baby Is A Woman Now, is about a naive 15 years Bolivian school girl (Aponte) losing her virginity at a friend's party. The second, You Damn Whore, follows an equally innocent boy (Urbina) on a family visit to the city of Santa Cruz in Bolivia who is pushed by his cousin and friends into the arms of a whore, the third. The Bluest Eyes, focuses on a popular, hot blooded guy (Saavedra), on the eve of his leaving Bolivia to go to an American college, as he has a fights with his girl friend, sleeps with a woman he picks in a bar and fumes at his mother's protective conduct at the airport.
The fourth, Mirrors, is a close-up autobiographical monologue of a black American girl (Reddick) culminating in the story of her rape, and the fifth, Angels And Billboards, is about a gay football player (Guida) in an American college who hides his sexual preferences until he finds himself involved by his team-mates in a gang rape.
In each of the stories there are at least one or two characters or situations that come back later, in following episodes, lending the entire picture a continuity that it would otherwise lack. All stories, without exception, reach their climax in sexual aggressions and all five episodes feature a huge billboard placed in downtown Santa Cruz, which is also the film's poster and the basis for a popular website. Featuring a young heterosexual couple in their underwear, presumably engaged in foreplay before the intercourse, this poster represents all the standard values on which the conduct of the film's various characters is based.
Bellott is from the Bolivian City of Santa Cruz boy but graduated from Ithaca University and brought in its film community to participate in the production. He seems equally at home in both Bolivia and the US and divides the film between two continents and two languages, Spanish and English.
The most visible trait he adopts here is to divide the screen throughout the picture in two, showing simultaneously two different versions of the same shot taken from two different angles, as if to provide an additional dimension to the respective scenes. Sometimes he also puts together two contrasting images, whose contrast is supposed to be a comment on the scene. The flexibility of digital cameras is of course a great asset in this case, though after the various options explored by someone like Mike Figgis with the same method but on a far more sophisticated level, the need for a split screen is not always that evident nor that necessary.
Working from a script he wrote with Lenelle Moise, a Haitian-American feminist writer, performance artist, poet, playwright, choreographer and activist, Bellot's film obviously sides with the victims of the aggressions he is showing, while implying, at the same time, that the aggressors themselves are helplessly trapped inside the image their social environment expects them to maintain. Though none of his five stories are particularly original and his characters do not go much beyond stereotype, Bellott draws the best out of his amateur cast, most particularly Ronica Reddick's moving portrait of a proud black girl subjected to the most degrading humiliation of her life.
Prod co: Bosd Films
Int'l sales: Cinemavault Releasing
Exec prod: Greg Leonarczik
Prod: Ara Katz, Bellott
Scr: Bellott, Lenelle Moise
Ed: Adriana Pacheco
Prod des: Carlos Pardo
Main cast: Alexandra Aponte, Roberto Urbina, Jorge Antonio Saavedra, Ronica V Reddick, Matthew Guida, Matt Cavanaugh