A surprisingly intense debut from Peruvian director Josue Mendez, “Days of Santiago” details a young war veteran’s tragic inability to adjust to civilian society. Though convincingly set in the lower depths of Lima, the story embodies a universal truth about the experience of former soldiers in many times and places. Edgy camerawork and a volcanic perf from lead Pietro Sibille should appeal to international distribs looking for smaller, quality fare.
At 23, former Navy Seal Santiago (Sibille) has returned to Lima’s slums after fighting for years against Equador and terrorists. He and his buddies (one in a wheelchair) are far from genre stereotypes — they’re reasonable young men who want a normal life far from the killing fields. Every door seems closed to them; on their soldiers’ pensions, they can’t buy a refrigerator, much less an education.
While his friends plan to rob banks, Santiago refuses to return to the stress of living in constant danger. He starts driving a cab and doing computer training part time. Underneath, however, he’s a tumult of suppressed rage and paranoia.
Santiago’s marriage breaks up not for lack of love, but because he can’t control his violent reactions. He struggles to impose a maniacal order on his life and those around him. Failing that, he desperately tries to imitate the young people who flock to an all-day discotheque.
Unable to handle any kind of incident without exploding in frustration, he grapples with his overwhelming inner contradictions until the tension explodes. Finale sidesteps predictable cliche in favor of psychological complexity.
Sibille earns sympathy in a tough, gritty role that still leaves room for kindness and noble sentiments. Supporting cast creates a realistic wall against which he slams his traumas. His feuding slum family is particularly unforgettable.
Mendez adopts a mixed style of color and B&W photography, which is alternated without apparent reason. A constantly moving camera and fairly rapid-fire cutting give film a jagged, modern look.