Thursday, September 12, 2019

MOTELX ’19: Jairo’s Revenge

Jairo Pinilla Tellez is a B-movie director, who has won the equivalent of Colombia’s Oscar for life achievement. That makes him sound like the Colombian Roger Corman, but Pinilla has been far less prolific. However, it wasn’t his fault. For years, Pinilla was essentially blackballed by the Colombian government’s film financing authority (FOCINE). That makes the production of a new Pinilla film quite an event. Simon Hernandez tries to capture the maestro at work in the documentary Jairo’s Revenge, which screens tomorrow as part of this year’s MOTELX, the Lisbon International Horror Film Festival.

Granted, Pinilla’s early films are somewhat rough around the edges, but they were big box office hits. Arguably, Pinilla was Colombia’s most successful native film director. Alas, he made a career-derailing mistake when he picked a fight with FOCINE. Not only did Pinilla find himself unable to work for years. He was also financially ruined and lost the rights to his own films.

Eventually, FOCINE was shut down and the Colombian cultural establishment started to recognize Pinilla as a trail-blazer. To complete his comeback, Pinilla sets out to make a new feature—his first in 3D and presumably his last, given his advancing years. Unfortunately, the genre auteur appears to be his worst enemy.

Initially, the behind-the-scenes drama Hernandez captures will not strike most viewers as being particularly earth-shaking. We get some entertainingly bonkers clips from his lurid filmography, but most of us would prefer a greatest hits package of wild film excerpts and off-the-wall anecdotes, in the tradition of Not Quite Hollywood or Corman’s World. Yet, things start to perk up dramatically after the first half hour, when Pinilla finds it impossible to keep a lead actress attached to the project, mostly because they are frustrated with him. Suddenly, Pinilla is arguing with everyone, especially Hernandez.

Pinilla’s production definitely runs way, way off the rails, which might sadden horror fans on an intellectual level, but there is no denying its entertainment value for voyeuristic gawking. Viewers will root for Pinilla, but we probably wouldn’t want to work with him.

After watching Jairo’s Revenge, the audience will have a greater appreciation for Pinilla’s grubby, underdog films. His career also tellingly illustrates the perils to free expression when the state plays a significant role funding arts and culture. Recommended for fans of idiosyncratic auteurist cult cinema, Jairo’s Revenge screens tomorrow (9/13), during MOTELX '19.