Last night, director Sebastián Cordero, an indie festival champ and a charming Ecuadorian hippie film nerd, made the Miami International Film Festival the site of the North American premiere of Pescador, a subtle and unique comedy about amateur drug trafficking in South America. Both the director and the lead actor, Andrés Crespo, were present at the event, held in South Beach Regal Cinemas, and obliged the audience with a question and answer session after the film, where they revealed that the it's based on a wild and true story, among other intimations.
A road movie set in Ecuador, Pescador begins in a small and beautiful coastal village, where a boatload of uncut cocaine bricks suddenly washes up on the shore. The town's fishermen (among them Blanquito ("Whitey"), our artless, light-complected protagonist) divide the bounty up evenly and hide their stash until members of the drug cartel that lost the coke in the first place come around to buy it back. But a resentment against his provincial life has been building in Blanquito, and he decides not to count himself among the schmucks that accepts a measly $500 per kilo from the cartel. He instead hatches a plan that he believes will kill three birds with one stone: (1) get him right with the wealthy politico father who's never acknowledged him, (2) get him the beautiful Lorna (María Cecilia Sánchez) the gold-digging girl of his dreams, and (3) get him rich.
The director explained that the story is loosely based on a true story involving a village man who found a similar cache of illicit drugs and ran off with a local prostitute for a month of non-stop partying, during which they spent the entire stash of cash, eventually returning penniless to their hometown.
Even without the benefit of meeting Pescador's bumbling hero or knowing how the real-life tale ends, one comes to expect that Blanquito's well-laid plans are apt to go awry. But once we spend just a few minutes with the character, whose main preoccupations seem to be getting drunk, getting laid, and getting fed, we are even more sure of his ineptitude.
One of Cordero's strengths with this film is that he gives a whole lot more than a cursory understanding of our protagonist - he truly gets us into the man's skin. At the Q&A, Cordero detailed how he brought viewers into Blanquito's world both with deliberately intimate camera angles and, more impressively, by bottoming out the film's other sound at key moments, picking up only the character's farm animal-like breathing in its place. "We spent a significant amount of time focusing on the breathing as a means of bringing you into Blanquito's interior world," said Cordero. "[That] and the over the shoulder shots help you identify with him quite a bit."
This is a genius move -- the character's breath cadence, which changes when he's experiencing stress or jealousy, for example, renders him so transparent that we come to pity his caveman-like simplicity.
Other effects the director employed were not, however, so successful. His use of low frame rate, which results in blurred stop-action scenes at the water's edge or in the city of Guayaquil, for example, served to make us suddenly and uncomfortably aware that we were watching a movie. The director was cognizant of this risk when he made the choice, and admitted that it probably wouldn't work for some people.
"I'm usually strict about not doing anything highly stylized that takes you out of the film, but I had always wanted to use the technique, and I thought that this would be the film to do it in," said the director. "I use it only in specific moments when something happens to open up Blanquito's world, when the world seems different for the first time."
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The film's soundtrack also sets it apart, as many members of the audience remarked at the Q&A. It's composed of songs from experimental Bogota salsa band La-33, who created tracks specifically for the score, and includes one particularly interesting tune that features a Latin Leonard Cohen sound-alike, set against a calypso background.
The film drags toward its conclusion. Where its initial scenes are both visually and culturally interesting, allowing us to get a raw feel for life in a small South American seaside village, the final ones, set in the street and grand homes in the city, get redundant. We become sick of standing in our protagonist's clumsy, rum-stained shoes, waiting for what's already clearly not happening to happen.
Crespo, who is a natural actor in every sense of the word, also plays a role in The Porcelain Horse, a film about deceit and addiction, directed by Javier Andrade. That film makes its world premiere today at 6:30 p.m. at the Regal South Beach Cinemas. Pescador will screen again on Monday at 7 p.m., also at the Regal.