Monday, September 12, 2016

VEFFNY ’16: Los 8-6

One of the drawbacks to leading a neighborhood gang is that everyone knows who you are. That was especially true of El Chino, whose titular outfit ran the Cotiza neighborhood of Caracas in the mid-1980s. Everybody knew him and usually had a good idea where to find him, including his girlfriend’s cousin, who was a top lieutenant in a rival gang. The new police death squad will also have a good idea of his whereabouts in Francisco Javier Mujica’s Los 8-6, which screens during the 2016 Venezuelan Film Festival in New York.

El Chino is one bad cast. Yesenia’s cousin Morocho also thinks he is pretty tough, but he is not in the same league. That is why she frequently beseeches El Chino not to kill the dumb kid, but that is not the sort of guarantee he is inclined to grant, especially not now.

After consolidating their hold on Cotiza, the 8-6 suddenly find themselves fighting a two-front war against Morocho’s gang and the newly formed special off-the-books police commando squad. This is probably not the best time to take down a big score, but El Chino does so anyway. That just adds a big bag of destabilizing cash into to the equation.

With no disrespect intended towards Mujica, Los 8-6 illustrates what colleagues have said about creative writing programs they have run in prisons. Every inmate writes the same story about a drug deal gone bad, but some of those stories are still really darned compelling. Mujica’s story is respectably middling.

Frankly, the most distinctive part of the film is El Chino’s dysfunctionally fiery relationship with Yesenia. It seems like they are always fighting, yet we can also feel the constant underlying heat. Logically, Ernesto Ceballos and Martha Tarazona are the standouts as Chino and Yesenia. To be fair, the entire cast is completely professional and thoroughly believable. They are simply not playing strongly defined characters.

We have definitely seen this sort of thing before, usually executed with a more colorful cast of characters. We can admire Mujica’s gritty integrity, but Los 8-6 still very much feels like a shopworn story, like the retold tale of the drug deal gone bad. Still, its workmanlike quality makes it watchable. Genre fans who want to support the festival have surely seen worse gangster films. It just isn’t special in any noteworthy way. Kind of an “eh,” Los 8-6 screens this Thursday (9/15), at the Village East, as part of this year’s VEFFNY.