Philadelphia Film Festival – ‘Magallanes’ is intricately satisfying

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Magallanes Film PosterMagallanes
Directed by Salvador del Solar
Peru, 2015
Philadelphia Film Festival

Magallanes (Damián Alcázar), a struggling cab driver, also doubles as the caretaker of his former colonel from the troubled Shining Path period in Peru. When a woman from his past gets into his taxi he concocts an elaborate blackmail scheme.

There’s some complex plotting in Magallanes, and some of the more intricate ironies, which come to the fore towards the end of the second act, are deeply satisfying. Ostensibly a film about denial, Magallanes’ truest motivations are kept expertly hidden, and his ultimate payoff – a reminder of a horrific event – is no exception.

Del Solar includes plot points that, depending on how tightly woven the film should be, are either missed opportunities or nice red herrings: a couple of disgruntled, underpaid thieves who seem certain to come back violently; secret smiles from cops who always seem to know more than they do.

The latter is the biggest failing of Magallanes, which resorts to cliché police drama whenever said officers are on-screen. Far more interesting than the investigation in the aftermath of the crime are Magallanes’ own relationships with men from more violent times and his pursuit of an unorthodox, unwieldy redemption.

Magaly Solier gets two big dramatic moments as Celina, the woman opposite Magallanes, and she doesn’t waste either, playing both to an emotional hilt. Though Magallanes is the lead, he’s more emotionally uniform, making Alcázar’s role subtly tougher. His is a pretty taciturn character, so his tired, uncertain smile goes a long way.

Del Solar and cinematographer Diego Jiménez capture Lima in browns and yellows, stressing bustling neighborhoods where crime – past and present – lurks everywhere. Nearly everyone in Del Solar’s Lima is corruptible except for Celina. Del Solar makes a fine point at the end of the film of having her final monologue be in her native Quechua, which goes untranslated. The past is too difficult to speak plainly about.

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