×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Days of the Whale’

Two young street artist/activists fall attractively in love against the backdrop of Medellín's gang subculture, in this promising debut.

Director:
Catalina Arroyave Restrepo
With:
Laura Tobón, David Escallón, Carlos Fonnegra, Christian Tappan, Julián Giraldo, Natalia Castaño, Margarita Restrepo. (Spanish dialogue)

1 hour 17 minutes

For all the peril that darkens its fringes, there’s an indomitable youthful exuberance that thrums through Catalina Arroyave Restrepo’s debut feature “Days of the Whale.” It makes the slight, and somewhat familiar, small-scale story, following a few days in the lives of a pair of Medellín-based graffiti artists, feel fresh enough as to be wet to the touch — a neon-colorful, if not hugely deep, manifesto of optimistic defiance spray-stenciled on a newly white-washed wall.

It’s this unmistakable energy and unconcealed filmmaking glee, rather than any particularly strong narrative instinct that marks Arroyave as one to watch. And as a calling card, “Days of the Whale” has already performed well, garnering the writer-director a special recognition in the CherryPicks Female First Feature category at SXSW, following stints at the Cartagena and Tallinn Black Nights film festivals. And in providing such a markedly lively contrast to her countrywoman Laura Mora’s grittier, dourer debut “Killing Jesus,” as well as to the epic, cinematic sprawl of the Cristina Gallego co-directed “Birds of Passage,” it suggests a nascent Colombian filmmaking resurgence that is not only diverse in terms of gender, but in style and approach.

Cris, played by casually stunning newcomer Laura Tobón, is a young street artist from a middle-class background, who lives with her father and his snippy new wife. Her mother, glimpsed in a couple of Skype calls, is a well-respected journalist who had to flee Medellín following some coverage that put her in the crosshairs of the local criminal element (it’s one of the film’s refreshing aspects that while crime and violence are omnipresent threats, Medellín’s most infamous erstwhile resident, Pablo Escobar, is never mentioned by name.)

Lightly tattooed and sporting scraggly pink-ombre highlights, Cris hangs out with fellow artist Simon (David Escallón). But what begins as a platonic relationship based on clandestine late-night painting sessions soon blossoms into more. Otherwise drama is in short supply in the first act, but the chemistry between the pair makes it a pleasure to watch, and as Cris and Simon nuzzle shyly closer, the film compels as a gentle portrait of the blissed-out uncertainty of new love — that heady period when you just can’t stop smiling at each other.

New notes are soon introduced, however. Cris and Simon are part of an artists’ collective run by Lucas (Carlos Fonnegra) who is coming to the malevolent attention of a local street gang running a protection racket. The slightly reckless Simon, explicitly from a less well-off background than the cautious Cris, used to run with these guys, and overestimates the level to which that gives him ongoing immunity. “We’re not in fifth grade anymore,” he is reminded by one of the gang’s enforcers, but when a threatening slogan appears on the wall opposite the collective’s HQ (colloquially translated to “snitches get stitches”), Simon is the first to advocate that they erase it. This relatively low-stakes dilemma forms the chief dramatic pivot point of the rest of the film’s brisk running time, as Cris wavers and then resolves to cover the wall in a large, psychedelic image of a whale — the film’s recurrent but slightly underdeveloped central metaphor.

Where the story threatens to falter, David Correa’s quick handheld camerawork urges it along, not so much painting a picture as sketching it out, in impatient, pressurized bursts of color and closeup, that rattle, fizz, and drip like spray paint from a can. And Victor Acevedo’s music, punctuated with bright, popping splashes of salsa, clubby remixes, and hard-edged Colombian hip-hop gives the film’s hip urban vibe its perfect sonic dimension.

If there is an issue with this otherwise confident, good-looking debut, it’s that the unmistakably upbeat filmmaking is slightly at odds with the precarious situation it is portraying. This is exacerbated by the foregrounding of Cris, insistently tugged into the foreground by Correa’s mobile camera, despite her arc being less inherently dramatic than that of many around her. There is perhaps an element of solipsism there, but if so, it’s a pretty accurate embodiment of the self-absorption of the young romantic. And that is really where the promising Arroyave’s interests seem to lie, not with any hard-hitting exposé of the seedy underbelly of cartel-blighted Medellín (and thank heavens, because we already have enough of those) but with the simple and universal expression of being young, creative, and, despite the dangers that may lurk around the next graffiti-tagged corner, irrepressibly alive.

Film Review: 'Days of the Whale'

Reviewed online, Berlin, March 20, 2019. (In SXSW, Cartagena, Tallinn Black Nights film festivals.) Running time: 77 MIN. (Original title: "Los Días de la Balena")

Production: (Colombia) A Raro Colectivo Audiovisual production, in co-production with Madlove, in association with Amplitud, Clap Studios, 235 Digital, La Poderosa Cine, Elephant Grip, with the support of Consejo Nacional del las Artes y la Cultura en Cinematografía, Fondo para el Desarollo Cinematográfico, Comisión Fílmica de Medellín. (Int'l sales: Raro, Medellín.) Producers: Jaime Guerrero Naudin, Natalia Agudelo, Nicolás Herreño. Executive Producers: Jaime Guerrero Naudin, Catalina Arroyave Restrepo, David Correa Franco, Andrés Arias, Mariana Gil, Camilo Escobar, Juan Pablo Castrillón.

Crew: Director, screenplay: Catalina Arroyave Restrepo. Camera (color, widescreen): David Correa. Editor: Juan Sebastián Quebrada. Music: Victor Acevedo.

With: Laura Tobón, David Escallón, Carlos Fonnegra, Christian Tappan, Julián Giraldo, Natalia Castaño, Margarita Restrepo. (Spanish dialogue)

More Film

  • Q&A With Juan Villegas on ‘Las

    Argentina’s Juan Villegas on ‘Las Vegas,’ Featuring at Cannes’ ACID

    CANNES – Buenos Aires’ director-producer Juan Villegas presented his debut “Saturday” at the Venice Festival and won awards at the Rotterdam and Sarajevo film festivals. “Suicidals” screened at San Sebastián. “Idleness,” his third feature, co-directed with Alejando Lingenti, screened at the Berinale. Produced by Salvador del Solar at Argentina’s Cepa Audiovisual and by Villegas’ production [...]

  • Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Kenneth Branagh

    Christopher Nolan's New Film Casts Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Kenneth Branagh

    Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Kenneth Branagh will appear in Christopher Nolan’s upcoming film, “Tenet,” led by John David Washington. Clémence Poésy, Dimple Kapadia, Michael Caine are also joining the cast that includes Washington as well as Elizabeth Debicki and Robert Pattinson. More Reviews Film Review: 'Brightburn' Cannes Film Review: 'Matthias & Maxime' “Tenet,” which is being [...]

  • Cannes Placeholder Red Carpet

    Eddie Peng, Ma Sichun Join Ann Hui's 'Love After Love'

    Eddie Peng (“Operation Mekong” “The Hidden Man”) will head the cast of “Love After Love” the new film by Hong Kong’s Ann Hui. He plays opposite Ma Sichun (“The Shadow Play,” “Soul Mate”). The picture, which started shooting on Wednesday in China, is the story of a young woman from Shanghai who travels to Hong [...]

  • 'Matthias & Maxime' Review: Xavier Dolan's

    Cannes Film Review: 'Matthias & Maxime'

    If there’s one term that Xavier Dolan probably never wants or needs to hear again, it’s “enfant terrible.” Irresistible to use when the Québécois auteur was 19, rattling out of the gate with his antsy, angry lash-out of a debut, “I Killed My Mother,” it’s followed him doggedly through a series of variously spiky, variably [...]

  • Cannes: Agoraphobia Drama '522' Sells to

    Cannes: Agoraphobia Comedy-Drama '522' Sells to South Korea (EXCLUSIVE)

    Media Luna New Films has sold South Korean rights for comedy-drama “522. A Cat, a Chinese Guy and My Father” to Laon-I at Cannes. The film tells the story of George, an agoraphobic young woman who can’t walk more than 522 steps from her home. One day, her cat forces her to embark on a [...]

  • Aladdin

    'Aladdin' to Soar Above Box Office Competition Over Memorial Day Weekend

    When Disney first released “Aladdin” in 1992, Bill Clinton was just settling in to the Oval Office, “Game of Thrones” wasn’t much more than a book idea percolating in the mind of author George R.R. Martin, and Johnny Carson was wrapping up his stint as “Tonight Show” host. In some ways, 2019 feels like a [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content