Notwithstanding Venezuela’s tempestuous political and economic situation, the country’s sizable filmmaking community has continued to produce and release high quality projects garnering consistent international attention.
Stepping away from the social realist narratives common in Venezuelan cinema, director John Petrizzelli recently crafted a whimsical adventure with colorful, surrealist undertones that echo Cervantes’ Don Quixote and the iconic movies of Alejandro Jodorowsky.
His 2017 feature, Bárbara, portrays an unlikely friendship between two people running away from their misfortunes into the inhospitable savanna. The eponymous character, Bárbara (played by veteran actor Alberto Alifa), is a drag queen fallen from grace, who’s stolen a suitcase from his ex-boss after being replaced by a much younger performer at the nightclub where he made his name. Hiding in the vast terrain, Bárbara meets Sixto (Rey García), a good-looking teenage boy escaping a gang of ravenous drug dealers. In need of companionship and logistical support, the two fugitives band together to embark on a fantastic journey.
Although concisely edited to just over a minute in length, the trailer grants the viewer access to key moments in the odd bond that forms between these strikingly disparate personalities. “Look at me. What would be of me without fantasy? I’ve spent my whole life being someone else,” says Bárbara as we see him galloping away on a horse while a luchador overlooks the landscape standing on a weirdly shaped rock formation. Such magical flourishes elevate the story dramatically and visually.
Shot mostly on location in Guárico, one of Venezuela’s states, Bárbara sports imaginative imagery and fanciful framing selections, like using a reflection in a small mirror to highlight an emotional state. Wide shots exhibiting the natural treasures of the South American nation are intercut with serious moments of conflict that resemble the tension in a Western. There’s praiseworthy creativity at play here, which surpasses the financial constraints the production surely faced.
Bárbara opened in Venezuelan cinemas last November and has been part of prominent festivals including the Chicago Latino Film Festival earlier this year.