In the remote wetlands of the Paraná Delta in northern Argentina, fieldworkers and fishermen live in uninterrupted solitude, completely disconnected from most modern advancements. Their main source of sustentation comes from the harvest of reeds that grow along the riverbanks.
Amidst this insular community lives Alvaro, (Jorge Román) a solitary homosexual man whose sole existence is comprised of working in the fields, caring for an old man in the nameless village, and dodging the bullying taunts of El Turu (Daniel Valenzuela), the captain of the local water taxi.
The narrative of La León is merely an excuse for director Santiago Otheguy’s visual richness, with frames that are moving photographs. He uses vast quantities of contextual moods and atmospheres devised to convey and portray the isolation and simplicity of the community’s reality, especially that of Alvaro’s. The central story of homophobia and inner turmoil navigates in tandem with that of his surroundings to emote why discrimination is taking place in the first place.
Any cinephiles paying attention will savor the delicate details of filmmaking that make this film triumph. Beautifully photographed in black and white and in widescreen, La León is reminiscent of works of cinematographer Robby Muller (Jim Jamrush’s Down By Law, Coffee and Cigarettes) and photographer Sebastiao Salgado. Otheguy’s use of slow, evolving fixed framing complements cinematographer Paula Grandio’s fantastic touch of immersing most of the film in shadows, visually depicting the land as a mysterious and almost untouched corner of the world.
This is Otheguy’s first foray as writer and director of a feature film (and an impressive one). His previous work includes short films, documentaries and working in the film Nordeste as camera operator. La León won a Teddy Award (LGBT distinction) at the 2007 Berlin International Film Festival.