Director Felipe Guerrero Shares Why His Film on Colombia’s Civil War Is Centered on Women

'Oscuro animal'

A beast threatens three women, Rocio (Marleyda Soto), La Mona (Jocelyn Meneses) and Nelsa (Luisa Vides) in rural Colombia as they escape the barbarity of the war. These women find themselves in the middle of the conflict, confronting family disappearances and gender violence among other ghastly war crimes on the rural Atlantic coast of Colombia.

The women’s stories are based on real testimonies that Colombian director Felipe Guerrero depicts in his first feature film, Oscuro Animal. The movie came out during a historic moment for Colombia. After more than fifty years of hostilities, the Colombian government and leftist rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – FARC – finalized a deal to end the war.

The award-wining drama, which premiered at the Rotterdam International Film Festival, and has been shown at several other festivals, allows us to experience the journey of resilience of three victims who flee a rural camp for the capital, seeking a new life. Rocio walks through a destroyed village after her son and husband disappear; La Mona escapes from her boyfriend, who keeps her like a prisoner and attempts to rape her; and Nelsa bursts out of the brutality of the paramilitary world she is forced to live in.

Women are among the Colombian conflict’s most damaged victims. Guerrero’s feature is one of the few films that focuses on women confronting sexual violence in the Colombian conflict, an estimated 13,600 Colombian women are rape victims because of the war. “I realized that women were in the eye of the storm and that their bodies were considered spoils of war,” Guerrero says.

Guerrero, 41, director of documentaries like Paraíso and Corta, has worked in Argentina, Chile, México, Italy and Colombia. For about ten years, the director studied the Colombian conflict, conducting research and writing the story based on individual testimonies, Human Rights and Colombian news reports.

The story evokes a dark atmosphere and the director uses powerful sonic elements like champeta – a fusion of African rhythms – and a punk-metal soundtrack, together with naturally occurring soundscapes like crickets chirping to build to a sense of impending doom.

“The feeling that produces the movie is the presence of a dark animal, a sort of an atmospheric and climate element that is always present and sometimes attacks,” says Guerrero.

With long takes and static scenes, and almost no dialogue, the movie captures the emotions of the protagonists with engaging storytelling to draw the audience both visually and emotionally. “The words that an actor can say, playing these painful characters, I think it would become an imprudence and not respectful of their pain.”

It is also a very powerful metaphor about the impunity against victims of violence. Guererro says, “I realized that the absence of dialogue would become a very important narrative and conceptual device. For me, it is a telling metaphor about a victim’s silence.”

In exploring alternative forms of narration, Guerrero also attempts to reflect on how cinema and media has represented violence. The movie does not necessarily show the brutal, violent war scenes one would expect, instead it puts on display the physical and visceral pain of its protagonists. Colombian director says, “some of us directors are working on a kind of cinema that takes away the violent action and keeps the character’s emotions.”

In Oscuro Animal, Guerrero’s main goal was “trying to reflect on the war and its representations and find out your own perspective which — from a linguistic point of view — questions the ways of representations and how the Colombian conflict has been shot,” says Guerrero.

Guerrero, now based in Argentina, has lived abroad for more than 20 years. But he approaches the Colombian conflict with a deep perspective that is “equally committed, equally visceral, as the Colombian who lives in the country.

This film, produced by Gema Films, the well-known Argentinian production company, is quite relevant and represents a pivotal opportunity to reflect on female victims, as well as the challenges that women have to face in the Colombian post-conflict era.

“I think that for a while some [Colombian] filmmakers have been working on the idea of war representation,” says Guerrero.

Oscuro Animal will have its US premiere at the AFI Latin American Film Festival on October 2, 2016.