Dominated by low-budget comedies solely aimed at the local market, El Salvador’s infrequent film industry is the last frontier among Central America’s emergent national cinemas. For decades, Salvadoran fiction works has been nearly absent from international festivals with the exception of a few shorts or projects shot in the country by foreign nationals (Salvadoran documentaries also sometimes make it to bigger festivals.)
At the beginning of the 2010s however, Arturo Menendez, a filmmaker from San Salvador, started to earn recognition outside of his homeland thanks to shorts such as Cinema Libertad, which was a finalist for the Berlin Today Award. In 2014, his debut feature Malacrianza – a social realist drama – became the first fiction film from El Salvador to travel to over 30 festivals including the prestigious AFI Silver Latin American Film Festival.
Four years later, Menendez is back with a more ambitious effort: the Salvadoran-Canadian co-production La Palabra de Pablo (Pablo’s Word), a thriller that’s loosely based on Shakespeare’s Othello and set at the majestic Lago de Coatepeque.
Pablo Matamoros (portrayed by newcomer Carlos Aylagas) is a young man from an upper-middle-class family whose mentally unstable father, Oscar (Leandro Sanchez Arauz, who’s starred in all of Menendez’s movies) has a new girlfriend. Jealous of his dad’s new romance, Pablo sets in motion a tragedy of epic proportions.
Uncanny imagery exploiting the location’s natural beauty marks the tone in the international trailer for Pablo’s Word. The cinematography embraces darkness and uses low-key lighting to heighten the mysterious and eerie narrative being told. With the Coatepeque crater as its most prominent locale, sequences on the water are also notable – specifically those that appear to have been shot in the early morning bluish light. Based on what’s presented here, Pablo’s Word looks technically impeccable.
Sources close to the production told Remezcla they are pushing for Pablo’s Word to become El Salvador’s first-ever Oscar entry for Best Foreign Language Film. El Salvador is the only Latin American country to never have submitted a movie for consideration in this category. That could finally change this year if director Arturo Menendez and his producer Alfonso Quijada manage to achieve the historic feat.
Pablo’s Word screened at the Innsbruck International Film Festival in Austria and the Chicago Latino Film Festival. The film will hit theaters in El Salvador in September and will be broadcast on HBO Latino September 28, 2018. It’s the first-ever Salvadoran film acquired by HBO.