There’s a timeless appeal to high-school reunion flicks. We’ve lived vicariously through classics of the genre like Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion, and now, a decidedly upper-crust Latin American take on the subject, the Peruvian film A los 40. Not that either were particularly like my high school, but a boy can dream can’t he?
Directed by newcomer Bruno Ascenzo and starring Peruvian comedy phenom, Carlos Alcántara, A los 40 dominated 2014 box offices in Peru and went on to become the second highest-grossing Peruvian film of all time after the 2013 Alcántara vehicle, Asu Mare. The comedy follows a group of–you guessed it–40 year-olds as they prepare for a casual reunion with old friends that will force them to re-examine their lives.
While it’s heartwarming to see locally-produced commercial cinema taking deep root throughout Latin America, the line between cinema and the famously unscrupulous television programming that dominates Latin American markets seems to be growing a bit blurry. Case in point: the A los 40 trailer kicks off with enough corporate logos to fill a Superbowl broadcast, for everything from banks to beer to shampoo. Expect product placement.
Once we actually get around to the film, we are presented with a series of more or less funny situations, with strong performances from a cast of Peru’s greatest comics and an impressively glossy visual style. Needless to say, the film seems about as artistically adventurous as the Oral B 3D White toothpaste it announces in the first 5 seconds, but perhaps more disturbing is the white-washed vision of Peruvian society presented in these two and a half short minutes.
With box-office busting popular comedies in Mexico, Colombia and Brazil taking on political corruption or exploring the lighter side of life in working class barrios, it’s truly disappointing to see Peruvian cinema perpetuating the stark racial and class divides that continue to characterize the country. Film can be art or it can be entertainment–perhaps the ideal would be somewhere in-between–but more importantly it shapes our vision of the world. Here’s hoping Latin American filmmakers will continue to take that responsibility seriously.