Actress Karent Hinestroza (“Chocó”) keeps her winning streak alive with another mature and graceful performance as conflicted wife Ofelia in her third feature film, “El Faro” (The Lighthouse), which had its world premiere Saturday at the Cartagena International Film Festival.
Joining the young actress are Andrés Castañeda (“Roa”) as her husband, Genaro, a former policeman running from his past, and the late Roger Perea in what must surely be one of the most powerfully understated performances of the year in Colombian cinema as Ángel Porras, the lonely, aging keeper of Santa Marta’s island lighthouse.
Part of a recent wave of poetic, nearly silent Colombian films dealing with rhythms of life in dying cultures and traditions, “El Faro” follows the parallel story of two couples drawn apart by the conflict between a sense of duty and desire to live a normal life.
When elderly lighthouse keeper Ángel finds Ofelia and Genaro nearly drowned on the shores of his solitary, rocky island, he takes them in and helps them recuperate. While grateful for her rescue, Ofelia has no desire to stay on the island and hopes to escape with Genaro to Barcelona. Her husband, on the other hand, feels a responsibility to help Ángel fulfill a Sisyphean promise to a German historian who interviewed the light keeper for a book he never finished writing.
Ángel lives alone on the island, which has a stark beauty reminiscent of Greek isles whitewashed against midnight blue water, despite being married for years. His wife abandoned him for a life in the city and refuses to accept a small fortune from her husband he had saved for his entire career. Genaro and Ofelia wonder incredulously why he doesn’t retire and use the money to make a comfortable life on the mainland.
“It’s not that easy,” replies Ángel in a world-weary voice to their suggestion that he find a replacement.
Indeed, the task of keeping alive a lighthouse barely necessary in an age of computer automation and GPS seems a wholly thankless task, but it serves as a metaphor for a recurring theme in Colombian cinema – the gradual extinction of old ways of life.
Issues of political corruption and regionalism pop up as well in the form of a corrupt, violent politician and a Bogotá-based presidential candidate attempting to steal a piece of the island’s history.
Gradually transformed into a sort of reincarnation of Ángel over the course of the film, Castañeda ends the film with a powerfully dramatic and almost completely silent scene. While undoubtedly slow in pacing, the film has potent, Hemingway-esque dialogue, and each performance is nothing short of captivating. Long, saturated takes of crashing waves, surreal sunsets and slow-moving ships create an entrancing visual experience.
“El Faro” is dedicated to star Roger Perea who passed away just a few months after shooting wrapped on what would be his first and last feature film, and it’s fitting tribute to the non-actor, who gives a lyrical and profound performance.
Director Pacho Bottía founded the cinema department at the Universidad del Magdalena in Santa Marta and continues to teach there. The school and several students were heavily involved in the production.
The film is tentatively scheduled for limited release in Colombia in March and April.