Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Does the real Puerto Rico appear in Angel Manuel Soto's LA GRANJA? Well, sort of...

Purporting to give us "the real thing" -- Puerto Rico as it was and still is post-economic collapse -- the 2015 film from Angel Manuel Soto entitled LA GRANJA (The Farm) turns out to be way too interested in the sex and drug life of its protagonists than it is of much else (except for the film's exceedingly ugly violence). While the filmmaker may be telling us that, sure, sex and violence are what are left behind after most else is taken away from a destitute population, he demonstrates this a little too often and with a little too much sheer enjoyment not to make us feel creeped out in the process of viewing his often horrifying work.

Señor Soto, shown at left, offers up a handful of characters and events that are co-joined by blood -- meaning both family and that red. oozing stuff -- in a time frame that circles back on itself so that what we might imagine is taking place afterward is actually occurring beforehand (or simultaneously). None of this will seem new to die-hard moviegoers (especially those who've viewed Amores Perros), but Soto serves it up well enough and draws persuasive performances from most of his cast.

His characters includes a tubby adolescent, a midwife who works in the local hospital and desperately wants to conceive a child (below), a teenage boxer with some talent who doubles as a murderer (further below), his father (three photos down) and the gangster/drug lord who controls them all (shown at bottom).

While things have certainly grown much worse since the economic meltdown, nothing in the film -- not the characters nor the events -- would seem to indicate that any of these are newly minted. They clearly predated the collapse but certainly have grown worse since then.

In the lengthy pre-credit sequence alone, we begin with that sex and drug use, combined with voyeurism and a rather philosophic narrative that turns out to be something less that we first imagine. We then move on to what is, I think, one of the most disturbing scenes I've ever witnessed on film in which a young boy is taken from his father's car at gunpoint and literally beaten to death in front of his father, even as he keeps calling out for his daddy to help him.

The reason for all this is presumably the usual -- money and power, drugs and sex -- but the how and why appears so arbitrary and almost simple (hasn't anyone thought of "offing" the lead gangster, who seems relatively henchmen-free?) that one can't help wondering about what kind of power structure is in place here.

There is clearly a political crackdown-on-drugs afoot, and at the finale this plays into events. Along the way we get another murder or two (one of a hospitalized, drug-addicted new mother by our infertile nurse), the possible conscription into whoring of a group of schoolgirls (below), our tubby teen's use as a drug mule, homemade sex videos via camera, and, gosh, I've lost count.

The sad little "unincorporated territory" of The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico has seldom looked less attractive or more disgusting, with the huge gap between the wealthy and the rest of the country about as pronounced as anywhere in the western world. La Granja is said to have taken a full four years to complete because it was condemned by the Puerto Rican government film establishment, and while one can understand why (a tourism generator, the film is not) and condemn this condemnation, one can also wish that this were a better film than it is.

Released here in the USA via Breaking Glass Pictures and running 100 minutes, La Granja opens this Friday, June 9, in Los Angeles at Laemmle's Monica Film Center and in San Diego at the Digital Gym/Media Arts Center.

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