Thursday, July 07, 2011

Pereda at AFA: Summer of Goliath

The hardscrabble village of Huilotepec might not offer much, but it is very definitely a man’s world. The men and the boys, who are mainly distinguishable by their age, walk out on their wives, slack off from work, and perhaps even get away with murder (opinions vary), while the women are left to raise the children and eke out a living. Though billed as a hybrid of fiction and documentary filmmaking, Nicolás Pereda’s Summer of Goliath (trailer here) will strike viewers as being all too real when it begins its premiere New York theatrical run tomorrow at Anthology Film Archives in conjunction with their Pereda retrospective.

Oscar insists he did not kill his girlfriend, even though her body was found in his bed. His brother kind-of sort-of gives him the benefit of the doubt, but most of the village shuns the boy they now call Goliath. It is embarrassing for Oscar, but he is getting off easy, if he really did it.

Huilotepec’s grown men do not spend much time worrying about the consequences of their actions either. Theresa’s serial philandering (and bisexual if she is to be believed) husband has finally left her for another woman. She is not taking it well. Adding to her frustrations, her ne’er-do-well son refuses to look for a decent job, preferring the apparently aimless thuggery of life as a soldier.

Incorporating elements (and at least one full scene) from Pereda’s short film Interview with the Earth, Pereda tells a grimly naturalistic collection of stories, only tangentially connected, with a documentarian’s cool detachment. It is not a flattering picture, suggesting widespread homophobic, sexist, and even sociopathic behavior in the sleepy hamlet. Of course, it is not supposed to be pretty. It is intended to reflect reality. Yet, Pereda even throws an occasional post-modernistic curve ball, breaking the fly-on-the-wall pretense by filming his actors in rehearsal for a scene we will shortly watch in earnest.

Though necessarily difficult to engage with, Goliath’s ensemble cast is mostly convincing as the emotionally stunted youths. However, Teresa Sanchez’s spurned wife and mother is a memorably tragic figure. It is painful to watch her, but impossible to turn away.

Notably, Pereda never attempts to blame so-called globalization or any other trendy social ill for the depressed conditions in Huilotepec. He simply presents reality as he ostensibly finds it. The results in Goliath are demanding and uneven cinema, yet vividly evocative. Recommended for seasoned art-house patrons, Goliath opens tomorrow (7/8) at AFA, where Interview also screens Friday, Sunday, and Tuesday (7/8, 7/10, and 7/12) during the Pereda retrospective.