Spanish-born Manuel De Pedro, a veteran helmer in Venezuela, has created a lively fictive portrait of recent revolutionary El Salvadorean upheavals in "Trap for a Cat." Material is approached as an actioner, which may prove popular on home turf. Wider offshore exposure is unlikely, however, since lack of true suspense, character development and complex political insights makes this more a live-action propagandistic comic strip than a serious, gritty drama.

Spanish-born Manuel De Pedro, a veteran helmer in Venezuela, has created a lively fictive portrait of recent revolutionary El Salvadorean upheavals in “Trap for a Cat.” Material is approached as an actioner, which may prove popular on home turf. Wider offshore exposure is unlikely, however, since lack of true suspense, character development and complex political insights makes this more a live-action propagandistic comic strip than a serious, gritty drama.

Set in 1980, pic has ambitious, somewhat self-centered filmmaker Maravilla (Gregorio Milano) and more idealistic leftist radio station operator Santiago (Alejandro Faillace) — both Venezuelans — deciding to join El Salvador’s Farabundo Marti for National Liberation. Their unit’s mission is to keep broadcasting agitational transmissions from voice-of-the-people vehicle Radio Venceremos, while combating and eluding the government troops sent to destroy this element at any cost.

Stand-in here for real-life nemesis Col. Domingo Monterrosa is Col. Maldonado (Amado Zambrano), who is sent into a frequent rage by Radio V.’s continued subversion, and shows his inhumanity by cackling at the thought of sparing children in an army massacre of “collaborating” villagers. In the end, a carefully hidden bomb destroys the colonel’s helicopter, paving way to dictatorial Presidente Duarte’s revolutionary overthrow.

Despite its basis in recent history, pic operates mostly as a fast-paced glamorization of guerrilla fervor, with little room for gray zones in the strictly black-and-white, gung-ho politics displayed. The FMNL members are an attractive, youthful bunch who, despite being chased all around the perilous mountains, often seem like they’re on a camping trip (which includes topless swimming frolics). Protags are just types, sans character growth or nuance; Maldonado is played as a cartoon tyrant and is thus hard to take seriously.

Ditto the violence, which never feels much more immediate than it would in an average B-grade war actioner. There are also clumsy editing gaps and narrative continuity errors, as when a guerrilla is shot and seemingly captured, then appears safely back with his comrades. Overall effect might have been more stirring if actual news and archival footage made more frequent appearances.

Nonetheless, pic has a basic crowd-pleasing appeal, as well as considerable organizational scale (particularly in the army scenes, which were shot in Venezuela). Lensing is often handsome, other tech aspects fine on a reported $ 300,000 budget.

Trap for a Cat

(ACTION -- VENEZUELAN)

Production

A Producciones Jota y Joropodo presentation of a Bolivar Films production, in association with Centro Nacional Automo de Cinematografia. Executive producer, Marco Antonio Perez. Directed, written by Manuel de Pedro.

Crew

Camera (color), Jonny Semeco; editor, Carlos Brinceno; music, Junior Romero; art director, Milton Crespo; sound, Otto Gaitan; assistant director, Martha Peinado. Reviewed at Festival Cine Latino, San Francisco, Sept. 20, 1998. Running time: 88 MIN.

With

Col. Maldonado ..... Amado Zambrano Santiago ..... Alejandro Faillace Maravilla ..... Gregorio Milano Lety ..... Yasmin Hernandez Mapo ..... Alberto Alcala Atilio ..... Rene Lovo Jonas ..... Carlos Velis
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