Nominated for: In Competition Feature Film
When was the last time you were rendered speechless by a film?
Leaving the screening of Angel Manuel Soto’s The Farm (‘La Granja‘), we felt cheap, we felt dirty, and we felt elated. Imagine if all the grit of Trainspotting had been transferred to the big screen without Danny Boyle’s stylisation, stripped of humour, and set in a dilapidated barrio of Puerto Rico: this would be the result. It was 100 minutes of pure scum, a wonderfully raw production displaying the true animalistic nature of humanity. Even watching the trailer brings about a physical reaction, a cold emptiness in your gut.
The first twenty minutes of this movie was one of the most visceral experiences ever encountered. It didn’t really let up from there either. Life’s fundamental elements of birth, death and sex were all handled so disturbingly that it was enough to make the viewer feel physically ill, however this is actually the merit of Soto’s incredible direction. Scenes of midwifery are rushed and bloody, a young boy is literally beaten to death at the hands of a boxer and a young couple grotesquely inject heroin before engaging in an extremely graphic sex scene, leaving very little to the imagination, watched voyeuristically by a sibling through a keyhole, all prior to the title. Even that’s before we see an awfully narcissistic sex tape viewed via their camcorder. In fact, the whole audience become seedy voyeurs to the dismal lives displayed on screen, with the cinematography being starkly minimalistic, unrefined and, above all, tremendous.
“It never lets you hope for a better outcome – you know it won’t come”
The Farm never allows you to know who you’re watching the story of. A father owes a debt, a desperate woman can’t conceive, a child crosses the border daily. Were you to know each detail of a character’s narrative, the connection you build would be too close to truly appreciate the image Soto is trying to create. Breaking Bad, for example, deals with sordid affairs, but due to the connection you’ve built, you’re only curious to the details of the story. The Farm does not allow this. The Farm forces the situation upon your curiosity and refuses to let you believe the story ends with the credits. It never lets you hope for a better outcome – you know it won’t come. As the trailer says, ‘We can’t avoid what we deserve’.
The episodic styling of the film did not feel laboured, and the connections never felt forced; the whole affair loose enough to justify the chapters, and close enough to be coherent. One character to tie all of the strands together was gangster Rubén (John Gracía), a barbaric individual with no morality whatsoever. Then again, that seems to be a concurrent trait amongst the ensemble. The nurse, Ingrid (Amneris Morales), is a sad, sad woman, who longs to conceive a child, but resorts to measures so horribly wrong to gain one that an audience member nearby burst into tears. It’s that kind of film. Ingrid’s story in particular comprises of nearly no dialogue at all, and the emotive Latino love ballads that boom through the speakers as she applies makeup, smokes cigarettes naked in the kitchen, or pleasures herself on the bed, were at times sickening. You won’t be surprised to learn that this was not the only instance of masturbation in the movie.
Angel Manuel Soto’s film is simply a snapshot of interweaving lives filled with debauchery and misfortune, in a city so crime ridden that it is chokingly claustrophobic. The direction situates the characters in similarly dingy and hostile interiors (cock-fighting pits, boxing rings or hospital rooms for instance), and the audience gets involuntarily drawn into the squalor, unable to leave. You don’t want to see what happening, but you’re glued to the screen. You simultaneously want the film to stop immediately but you feel compelled to see some finality. And there is none; the tragedy is an endless loop, an ending that could not be more fitting.
We’ve never been more uncomfortable sitting in a cinema, but by God it was worth it.
Image: Angel Manuel Soto