Saturday, May 01, 2010

Tribeca ’10: Blood and Rain

Colombia has made great strides fighting leftist terrorism, but cocaine fueled street crime is still a fact of life. No one knows this better than Jorge, a cabbie whose brother was recently killed in an act of not-so random gang violence. Unfortunately, he has a late night appointment with the crooked cop most likely responsible for the crime in Jorge Navas’s Blood and Rain (trailer here), which screens during the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival.

In their previous lives, Jorge’s brother had a gift for planning operations against the guerillas, which he recently applied to a vicious gang operating on the streets of Bogota. Shortly thereafter, he was murdered in a clear act of retaliation. Angry and grieving, Jorge is in no mood for a shakedown from the crooked Lieutenant González’s henchman. Unfortunately, he winds up on the receiving end of a savage beating and invitation to a 4:00 AM meeting with the Lieutenant that is a blatantly obvious set-up.

Not thinking clearly, Jorge picks up hardcore partier Angela before passing out from his injuries. Much to her own surprise, she does the right thing, taking him to the hospital and tending to his wounds while they wait. Even after he is stitched up, Angela is reluctant to say goodnight, accompanying Jorge as he enlists the help of Don Hector, a shadowy businessman who was once his commanding officer.

Blood and Rain is an aptly named noir, since neither commodity is in short supply throughout the film. Much like the best film noirs of Dassin and Lang, Rain immerses viewers in a hardboiled world unto itself. It is fascinating to watch Don Hector’s paramilitary cab fleet closing in on Lieutenant González’s crew, as they in turn tighten the noose around Jorge.

Yet Rain is truly a moody, quiet film that forgoes many of the genre’s typically action-oriented plot devices. While cinematographer Juan Carlos Gil nicely captures Bogota’s late-night netherworld with sinister elegance, the key to the film’s success is the nuanced chemistry between its leads, Gloria Montoya and Quique Mendoza, as Angela and Jorge, respectively. Personifying world-weary romanticism, they are like ships passing in the night that cannot let go of their brief encounter, though they understand only too well the danger in holding on. Montoya’s work is particularly impressive, investing her character with considerable depth and sympathy, despite her problematic lifestyle.

While Rain is compelling as a crime drama, it has surprising substance. In the tradition of great noirs past, it employs themes not out of place in classic tragedy, like loyalty, revenge, and redemption. It also creates a visceral sense of Bogota’s nightlife, using the city as an effective backdrop for its morality play.

As Navas’s feature directorial debut, Rain is a remarkably assured work. An unusual blend of lyric tragedy and gritty naturalism, Rain is a relatively unsung highlight of this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. Enthusiastically recommended for mature audiences, it screens again today (5/1) and tomorrow (5/2).