Thursday, February 7, 2013

Alejandro Landes' PORFIRIO: yet another uniquely successful doc-plus-narrative mix

Among the many other delights that the year 2005 brought us was the news story "Paralyzed man in diapers hijacks plane to Bogota." (That news story is here.) "Ah, those Colombians!" thought some of us at the time. A Brazilian filmmaker named Alejandro Landes, shown below, found himself fascinated by that headline, as well, but he has spent five years first getting to the bottom of it and then making a movie -- PORTFIRIO -- about it, starring the actual participants in the event: the wheel-chair-bound father named Porfirio Ramirez Aldana; his then-teenage son Jarlinsson, whom he affectionately calls Lissin; and their next-door neighbor and occasional love interest for dad, a zoftig, kindly and amusing young woman they call Jasbleidy, and who is played, I believe, by the woman herself, Yor Jasbleidy Santos.

The reason for the highjacking, as we soon come to learn, can be seen on the poster above: that prominent scar over the hole made by the bullet shot by the police that, if I understood correctly, still remains inside Porfirio's body. This fellow, a farmer and cattleman at the time, had nothing to do with this shoot-out. He was simply in the wrong place at the precise time to become another piece of collateral damage, one that must ever remain in that wheelchair.

Evidently the government had made some promises, but nothing has transpired, and so Porfirio has hired a lawyer to proceed. As the movie makes quite clear, the legal eagle seems not to be doing anything to help the situation, and so, over time, our hero -- and he is exactly that -- concocts a plan....

Before we get anywhere near that plan, however (the movie spends only its final 15 minutes at the airport), we get to know Porfirio, Lissin and Jasbleidy (who is shown below, right) and the life that our hero leads, day to day. It ain't fun, but so full of piss and vinegar is Porfirio, so lively, funny, angry, sorry-for-himself, sweet and -- hell -- even sexy is this guy that we're soon in his corner and rooting for him absolutely.

Filmmaker Landes does not go in for exposition; he simply plops us into things, and so we wonder at the beginning, who is the man (below) being bathed and attended to, and who is the boy (Lissin, at left) doing the bathing? Eventually, via the film's sparse dialog and our using our noggin, we figure it out. A snake oil salesman makes a visit. The family dog does his thing, too. ("You're the only one who has not betrayed me," notes Porfirio to the animal in a moment of fully understandable self-pity.)

Although I wished at times that Landes has speeded his 101-minute movie up (ten minutes could easily be cut by judicious trimming), I suspect that the filmmaker wanted to put us far enough inside Porfirio's life and skin so that we experience things at approximately the same pace he does. And so we do, but this is tricky. While the time we put in is generally well spent and interesting, some viewers will have gotten the "moment" and the one after, and the one after that a bit before the filmmaker decides to cut away. This sort of excess begins to pile up.

Still, so far inside the mind and heart of this man do we dig that, on balance, the film is worth those extra minutes. Around halfway along, Porfirio manages, with a huge effort, to get into his wheel-chair by himself and go out, along with his dog (above), to visit his lawyer, the swine. This is one hell of a scene, followed by another interesting one that takes place at the local Bingo parlor (below).

There are certainly some others too. One such has Portfirio knoc-king on Jasbleidy's door and having her bring him inside for a little nooky. There he is, hardening his cock with his hand, and a moment later she's on top of him and they're going at it without an ounce of shame, which is absolutely right. Landes films it all in a manner that allows us to watch but never leer, so we don't feel the least bit embarrassed. We're just happy for the guy -- and for her, too.

As I say, it is not until the final fifteen minutes that we hit the airport for the big event. Since this movie has a minimal budget, we don't expect any big-deal, Hollywood-like pizzazz. But the way in which Landes preps us for the event and leads us up to it is just about perfect. I think you'll be amused -- no, utterly delighted -- by his subtlety and clever sleight-of-hand.

Porfirio, a very good movie featuring a memorable man, from the relatively new distributor Magic Lantern, opens in New York City this Friday, February 8, at MoMA. (Click here to see screening dates and times.) Other cities and theaters I am sure will follow, once word gets around....

No comments: