Los Canallas (Podría Ser Peor)
Los Canallas are a jolly group of scoundrels, featured in this film, written, shot, edited and promoted by a gang of enthusiastic Acting and Directing students. These young people make up the very first promotion of the newly minted film program in Ecuador. This strange and stimulating film received third place at the Montreal World Film Festival in 2008, for the best opera prima, and is now available to English-speaking audiences (and well subtitled, be it said in passing).
Reminiscent of similar films from other Latin American countries (such as Uruguayan directors Pablo Stoll y Juan Pablo Rebella’s film entitled 25 Watts from 2001), this innovative feature is a fresh look at youth culture in Ecuador, a subject that certain viewing cultures, Western and North-Americans in particular, are not often party to. Innovatively filmed and edited, it is presented as the first feature-length film by the young Cristina Franco and her classmates–they are too numerous to name, but all fulfill at least one role (and up to four) in the acting and various tasks associated with making the film. I mention Franco because she has a central role and is quite entertaining as the young girl whose failed suicide attempts frame the first part of the film.
Centered around three separate but interlinked sections, the film speaks to the general problems of youth in Ecuador. The first section entitled, “We all love Helena so much” features a funny cameo by established Ecuadorian actress Ruth Basante as the grandmother who, in one of the funniest scenes of the film, walks in on her granddaughter’s prospective boyfriend as he is in the restroom, relieving himself on Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Not the subtlest message in the film, but amusing nonetheless.
“There are low blows in life”, the second section of the film, features an intense boxer, shot in close ups, who is definitely not meant for the sport. Perhaps the weakest part in terms of writing, this section is however beautifully shot.
In the third section (and ironically, the darkest in terms of shots), entitled “Those whom you meet, those who stay, those who are,” speaks to some of the difficulties facing the students who often leave for other countries where Latin American cinema may prosper: Argentina is mentioned. This note is not a coincidence since Argentina has recently had one of the most vibrant cinemas in Latin America, with a win for Best Foreign Film at the Oscars in 2010 for The Secret in Their Eyes (directed by Juan Jose Campanella).
Shot around the stunning and beautifully captured city of Quito, we must lament that the students did not make more extensive use of their environment. This film brings to the forefront the problems and class differences which are inherent to this society culture. It also tackles some taboo subjects such as masturbation, religion (sometimes cleverly intertwined), voyeurism, poverty and vagrancy. It is an interesting and quirky first film, well worth a look at, despite its often shocking and occasionally crude content.
This candid attempt by the students to make a film (or three) should not be overlooked since it bodes well for the future of cinema in Ecuador. Let’s hope that not all of the graduating class has to move to Argentina to find work!