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Monday, 22 October 2012

Juan y la Borrega (2011)

Director: J Xavier Velasco
Stars: Manuel Dominguez, Carlos Aragón and Edgar Vivar
This film was an official selection at Phoenix FearCon V in Scottsdale in 2012. Here's an index to my festival reviews.
At heart, the Phoenix Fear Film Festival is a thing of tradition. Whatever it chooses to call itself (Phoenix FearCon V in 2012), however big it becomes (this year was bigger by far than any prior edition) and whatever events it generates (a zombie fashion show, modern day horror host Dr Diabolic, even a burlesque performance), its core remains solidly in the sort of independent film that you might expect primarily, if not only, to see at a film festival. This year, Trash City's Chris and Jim McLennan screened four features and ten shorts, hailing from seven different countries and every conceivable corner of the horror genre. It kicked off in no uncertain fashion with this tough but thoughtful Mexican short film from writer/director J Xavier Velasco. In many ways it's not really a horror film at all but it contains much that is horrific, even as the story it has to tell begins when the end credits roll. It's a great film to start a real film festival.

Juan is a nobody. He lives alone and has no family, his hairline is spectacularly receding and he arrives at the uniform store at which he works long before anyone else. Eleven years of service has led him nowhere; he still mans the counter, but he doesn't seem to mind because he has no ambition. Life to him is a collection of routines, what most of us would call tedium. He's detached from the world around him, or at least he is until La Borrega shows up one morning, asking for Juan's boss, Enrique Salgado. Given that 'la borrega' translates from the Spanish as 'the sheep', obviously something is going on and when La Borrega follows Juan to an employees only area of the store and pulls out a gun, it's pretty clear what it's going to be. We've seen this scene before, though it's shot with style by Felipe Perez-Burchard and actors Manuel Dominguez and Carlos Aragón do fine work. The key is that it's not going where we might expect from experience.

Really this isn't about La Borrega at all. He could be anyone, as surely all the best hitmen seem to be, and what he has going on with Salgado is of no real importance. What matters is just that he's there and the few minutes he spends with Juan become a life changing experience for the unambitious clerk. His arrival is literally a wake up call and the best scene of the entire film is the quietest one, after it's all over. We see Juan in a completely different light, as if he's finally noticed the world. The film ends precisely when it should, without giving us any idea where it's going to go next, only that it's going to be somewhere completely different. Dominguez is good with the subtleties and the score by Alejandro Bonilla, all strings and piano, underpins it well. If FearCon V had ended after this first short, it would still have done what film festivals are tasked to do, namely to show us something of quality that we wouldn't be able to see elsewhere.

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