Wednesday, November 21, 2007


Police and crime dramas are popular genres in Peruvian cinema (see for instance Alias "La gringa" or Bajo la piel) and also in Latin America more generally (Plata quemada or El chacal de Nahueltoro, say). There are various reasons for this. Among them, first, that crime is consistently an issue in contexts where the state is relatively weak and so either rural banditry or urban delinquency rife. Second, even when the state is present it is often the object of distrust; a sense that official corruption is tolerated and the poor unnecessarily targeted often turns criminals into folk heroes.

Django posterDjango: La otra cara purports to show this "other face" of criminality and to humanize the conflict between cop and robber, but frankly it's all too predictable and far from credible. This despite the fact that allegedly it's based on a true story, of one Oswaldo Gonzales, alias Django, a notorious Peruvian bank robber during the 1970s and 1980s, who may even have started his own blog devoted to detailing his subsequent conversion to Christianity.

In the film, however, what we are shown are Django's final days at large, as his criminal career starts to unravel thanks to a botched hold-up in which a partner and friend is killed, and thanks also to the single-minded pursuit of a police captain by the name of Manuel. It turns out that Django and Manuel were once friends, way back when they were young men in the provincial town of Trujillo. What's more, Django's wife, Tania, was once Manuel's girlfriend. So the policeman's investigation is also a personal matter, which leads to a measure of respect and consideration on the one hand, but also all the more determination in the quest for justice on the other.

Meanwhile, on the run, Django hooks up with his dead buddy's woman, and together they go on a desperate rampage with shades of Bonnie and Clyde while poor Tania is left literally holding the baby. So Django is hardly the gentleman, despite his debonair ways and the fact he repeatedly examines an old black-and-white photo of his family for some kind of inspiration and/or succor. There's also the suggestion of yet another backstory, in which our hero villain may have been the lone survivor of a car crash in which his parents and brothers were killed, but nothing is made of this over the course of the film.

The stress is on the different paths followed by the two old friends. One has sided with the forces of law and order, the other has become intoxicated by the thrills of crime and ill-begotten money. Constant flashbacks continually ram the point home. But these nostalgic scenes of bygone days don't in fact clarify either of the two characters: in fact their destinies already seem to be set from the outset.

Django would probably like to suggest that the problem of law and outlaw, of criminality as both menace and popular myth, and of the state as both moral guardian and broken promise, is a question of a singular entity with multiple faces, some kind of social doppelgänger. But the movie never succeeds in charting such ambivalences. The paths of lawman and villain only touch tangentially; they never actually cross. Django seldom deviates from being headstrong and self-centered, while Manuel is almost always scrupulous and considerate. The final scene hints at some ultimate betrayal, in which some rough code of honour between the two at last comes to an end, but by this time we really no longer care.

YouTube Link: Django's prison break.

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