It’s a stranger-than-fiction story: In September 2005, a Colombian man named Porfirio Ramirez—who’d been paralyzed from the waist down after a police shooting—shoved two grenades down his pants and boarded a flight. He then threatened to blow up the plane if the government didn’t compensate him ASAP. There are, naturally, several ways one could bring this story to the screen. You could cast a name actor (he’d get to portray a disgruntled disabled man fighting for his dignity—hello, Oscar nomination!) and milk the hijacking for maximum pulse-pounding effect. Or you could hire the real-life Ramirez to play himself and refuse to show the headline-making event at all.
Brazilian filmmaker Alejandro Landes chose the latter route, and the result is part po-faced dramatization, part documentary and all affectless true-crime curio. The whole notion of taking a page out of the Bressonian handbook (nonprofessional performers, a complete lack of emotionalism) lends a spiritual aspect to this antihero’s plight, with neither social neglect nor a battered corpus keeping his soul from transcending the self. Reaping the benefits of such a minimalist methodology, however, requires a high tolerance for Porfirio’s pitiless formalism—the sort of rigorous, take-no-prisoners ugliness that has become synonymous with modern art-house cinema and ultimately suggests that Landes may be just another filmmaker with an impeccable eye beholden to a hardened heart.
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