×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Mateo’

Maria Gamboa's debut feature is a straightforward social-issues drama told with passion and sincerity.

With:
Carlos Hernandez, Felipe Botero, Samuel Lazcano, Miriam “Pesca” Gutierrez, Leldy Nino, Alexis Guerrero, Juan Orozco. (Spanish dialogue)

An at-risk teen learns a lesson about values, the importance of community, and the liberating power of art in “Mateo,” a straightforward social-issues drama from Colombia-born, NYU- and La Femis-trained helmer Maria Gamboa. Told with passion and sincerity, this moral tale offers an audience-friendly blend of didacticism and naivete reminiscent of an Afterschool Special. Having nabbed awards for screenplay and first feature at the Miami Film Festival, plus two special jury mentions at Cartagena, the film should see extensive fest travel before seguing into niche theatrical play and broadcast exposure in Spanish-speaking markets.

Set in Barrancabermeja, a river port and the unofficial capital of Colombia’s violence-scarred Magdalena Medio Valley, the film centers on Mateo (Carlos Hernandez), a 16-year-old in danger of being kicked out of school and becoming ensnared in a criminal lifestyle. Mateo lives with his poor, hard-working single mother, Made (Miriam “Pesca” Gutierrez), but looks to his Uncle Walter (Samuel Lazcano), a local crime boss, as his role model. Although Made frowns on the lad’s interaction with her sinister brother, Mateo earns more than she does by collecting extortion money from local shopkeepers on his uncle’s behalf.

Mateo’s school threatens him with expulsion unless he enrolls in a theater program run by an unconventional priest, Father David (Felipe Botero). Made puts her foot down, saying he must attend or she will banish him from the house. At first, macho Mateo feels threatened by the group’s touchy-feely, trust-building exercises; he storms out of his first session, refusing to touch other boys or let them touch him (“It’s not my thing … it’s for faggots,” he tells his mother). But Walter secretly ups the ante for Mateo to participate, ordering him to spy on the padre and the group members, and promising him his own gun and a permanent place in his gang.

Eventually, the theater group’s activities and the camaraderie of the others spark something in Mateo, who begins to take pride in his new skills and feels liberated from his day-to-day pressures. Adding to his enjoyment is his interest in another attendee, the curvaceous Ana (Leldy Nino). But when his best friend, Carlos (Juan Orozco), goes missing after crossing Walter, Mateo starts to realize just how dangerous his uncle is, especially when his uncle starts pressuring him for dirt on his new friends.

The simple (and at times simplistic) script by helmer Gamboa and Adriana Arjona is clearly intended to instruct and inspire as it shows how cooperation and collective action empower people, enabling them to retain their dignity and resist pressure from forces outside the law. Gamboa demonstrates this not only via the activities of the theater group, but also through Made and other female members of the community as they collaborate to start a plant nursery and bakery.

Per press kit, Gamboa was directing a TV series, “Revelados,” about how to prevent adolescents from entering Colombia’s armed conflict, when she encountered several instances in which the lives of vulnerable teens had been changed through their contact with groups of artists. This provided the inspiration for “Mateo,” on which she collaborated with community-based peace activists and cultural groups. Apart from Botero, the thesps are local non-pros, mostly well cast if slightly stiff. The handsome Hernandez does a good job of portraying his character’s transition from swaggering gangster wannabe to someone starting to think about morals and ethics, while lively Nino nicely conveys the excitement and physicality of first love.

The modest but polished production package gives a naturalistic sense of the daily lives of the urban poor.

Popular on Variety

Film Review: 'Mateo'

Reviewed at Cartagena Film Festival (competing), March 17, 2014. (Also in Miami Film Festival — competing). Running time: 86 MIN.

Production: (Colombia-France) A Dia-Fragma Fabrica production in co-production with Cine-Sud Promotion, Hangar Films, in co-production with Cine Sud Promotion, Hangar Films, with the support of Proimagenes Colombia, Ibermedia, CNC, Fundacion Ecopetrol, Ecopetrol, Morelco, Indios Films, Moviecity. (International sales: Alpha Violet, Paris.) Produced by Daniel Garcia, Maria Fernanda Barrientos.

Crew: Directed by Maria Gamboa. Screenplay, Gamboa, Adriana Arjona. Camera (color, HD), Diego Jimenez; editors, Gustavo Vasco, Jacques Comets; music, Marc Hurl, Camilo Sanabria; art director, Camilo Barreto; costume designer, Catherine Rodriguez; sound (5.1) Jean Guy Veran, Cesar Salazar; sound designers, Camilo Montilla, Sergio Stempniewicz; assistant director, Jean Gomez.

With: Carlos Hernandez, Felipe Botero, Samuel Lazcano, Miriam “Pesca” Gutierrez, Leldy Nino, Alexis Guerrero, Juan Orozco. (Spanish dialogue)

More Film

  • Patti SmithVariety's 10 Storytellers to Watch

    Patti Smith Talks Biopics, Beats and Losing Her Cool in Front of Bob Dylan

    On Thursday afternoon Variety partnered with IFP for the first “10 Storytellers to Watch” event, and among the novelists, lyricists, podcasters, playwrights, graphic novelists and brand storytellers who were honored was the pioneering singer, poet and author Patti Smith. The legendary artist received the Impact in Storytelling honor not only for her formidable body of [...]

  • The Great Outdoor documentary series about

    Farm to Picture: Documentary Series 'The Great Outdoor' Chronicles a Life Gone to Pot

    Cannabis cultivation in the Emerald Triangle, the area in Northern California that has long been a go-to for growers, has a starring role in a new documentary series called “The Great Outdoor.” Funded by Flow Kana, one of the state’s leading cannabis flower brands, filmed by David Zlutnick, and executive-produced by Flow Kana co-founder Flavia [...]

  • 1982 El Gouna Festival

    Egypt's El Gouna Film Festival Puts Arab Helmers at Center Stage

    The upbeat state of Arab cinema will be on the screen and in the balmy air at Egypt’s El Gouna Film Festival (Sept. 19-27), which is steadily gaining traction in its stated ambition to become a key platform and solid driver for Middle-East producers. “This year was one the best for Arab cinema,” says Intishal [...]

  • Star Skipper Paramount Animation

    Meet Star Skipper, Paramount Animation's Magical New Trademark Logo Character

    Studio logos are powerful signals to audiences.  Multiple generations of moviegoers flipping through channels or scanning streaming titles have frozen at the sight of a desk lamp hopping across the screen, because it means a Pixar movie is about to play. Likewise, when a young boy lounging inside a crescent moon casts his fishing line into [...]

  • Sybil

    Cannes Competition Movie 'Sibyl' Finds North American Home With Music Box (EXCLUSIVE)

    Music Box Films has acquired the U.S. and Canadian rights to Justine Triet’s darkly comic drama “Sibyl,” which competed at Cannes and had its North American premiere at Toronto in the Special Presentation section. Represented in international markets by mk2, the film follows the ambiguous relationship between Sibyl, a jaded psychotherapist (Virginie Efira, “An Impossible [...]

  • Kent Jones Directs 'Diane'

    Kent Jones to Exit New York Film Festival (EXCLUSIVE)

    In a surprise move, New York Film Festival’s director and selection committee chair of seven years Kent Jones will step down following this year’s 57th edition, which runs Sept. 27-Oct. 13. The departure comes as Jones’ feature filmmaking career is taking off. Issues of potential conflicts of interest have arisen as his work has moved [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content