Inevitable comparisons to Taxi Driver notwithstanding, Peruvian first-time writer-director Mendez's taut film about a veteran unable to adjust to civilian life stands on its own chilling merits. Drafted as a teenager, 23-year-old Santiago (Sibille) loved the order and discipline of the Navy, but hated the random violence and corruption. After three years he returns to civilian life, only to find that his hometown, Lima, isn't quite the same. Ill at ease in a concrete jungle whose chaos and corruption offend him, Santiago has a pittance of a pension, a head full of nightmares and no job skills.
Santiago's old military buddies are all in the same boat—one hangs himself in despair and the others decide to adapt their training to something lucrative: bank robbery. Despite the fantasies of violence buzzing in his brain, Santiago opts to drive a cab so he can pay for classes to gain a foothold in a legitimate career. But his classmates are aimless teenagers whose hedonism both attracts and repels him—and they have no idea what kind of man they're provoking with their careless teasing. Mendez mixes color and b&w footage skillfully, suggesting the monochromatic clarity Santiago craves and the riotous reality that threatens to overwhelm him. And Sibille's slow-burn performance as a man whose nature and aspirations are fundamentally at odds is mesmerizing. (Opens Thu; Pioneer.)