Despite the dire moment Venezuelans are living politically and socially, the country’s film industry continues pushing into something of a golden age. Adding to a growing list of art house hits that stand alongside the country’s big-budget epics and commercially oriented crime films is the feature drama El Amparo from director Rober Calzadilla, which premiered at this year’s San Sebastián Film Festival in the Horizontes Latinos sidebar.
Based on the tragic true story of the 1988 Amparo Massacre, El Amparo dramatizes the events that led to the murder of 14 fishermen by the Venezuelan military under the false pretext that they were guerrilla operatives. But more than a mere recreation of the events, El Amparo focuses on the fictional experience of two men who survived and were subsequently jailed on trumped up charges. As the police watch over the men, the military tries to intimidate local authorities into giving them up, while the local townspeople struggle desperately to keep them safe.
Adapted from the play “29.10.88” by Karin Valecillos (who also penned the screenplay), El Amparo is a dialogue-driven psychological drama that seems to hark back to classic American adaptations like 12 Angry Men or A Streetcar Named Desire in its claustrophobic focus on pure acting and dramatic conflict. That’s not to say that Al Amparo is lacking in technical artistry — the naturalistic cinematography by Michell Rivas takes advantage of low-light interiors to create a moody atmosphere, while the expressionistic sound design ramps up the tension.
What stands out most clearly from the trailer, however, is the intensity of the performances by actors Vicente Quintero and Giovanny García, which straddle a delicate line between an almost innocent naturalness and a masterful emotional intensity.