From Pensacola to Panama City, some problems are just universal. Like, when a middle-class high school kid gets busted for smoking pot. Admittedly, attitudes have changed quite a bit in the US over the last few years, but even flat out legalization won’t save a 16-year-old from law enforcement, school psychologists, and uncomfortable family conversations. Now just imagine how awkward things get in the socially conservative societies of Latin America, where ganja continues to suffer from social taboos that associate it with everything from political upheaval to Satan.
For a pretty clear-cut idea about how that might play out, we have the new Panamanian feature Kenke, whose title is a reference to the local slang for weed. The film follows the story of adolescent Kenny, who is busted while going deep on a brownie trip (which we all know is quite possibly the worst way to go) and his uptight, upper-middle-class family is rightfully scandalized. Their solution is to recruit Kenny’s hardworking, upright cousin Josué to teach him the virtues of the straight and narrow — without realizing that Josué himself dabbles in the good bud.
Written and directed by Enrique Pérez Him and produced by Best Picture System — which previously brought us the Guatemalan slacker comedy Puro Mula, followed up by narco sci-fi comedy Ovnis en Zacapa — Kenke has all the visual hallmarks of a no-budget guerrilla production. Still, none of the film’s flaws should take away from the fact that Kenke and the Best Picture System crew occupy a unique space in Central American cinema, bringing an irreverent indie spirit a nascent industry still finding its voice.