One of the most powerful films you will see this year is Land and Shade (Tierra y Sombra). The 2015 winner of the prestigious Cannes Caméra d’or, the movie is simple but has that subtle quality of getting under your skin. The story revolves around very few characters, a family in the Valle de Cauca region in Colombia. It is a low-income family: the matriarch Alicia (Hilda Ruiz) and her daughter-in-law (Marleyda Soto) work in a sugar plantation in a brutal environment for very low wages. The matriarch’s son Gerardo (Edison Raigosa) has fallen ill of some sort of respiratory illness. Bed-ridden, he can no longer work on the plantation. Gerardo’s wife steps up to his job while taking care of him and their 6-year-old son. The action is set in motion when his estranged father Alfonso (Haimer Leal) returns to enter the constrained family dynamic.
Gerardo’s respiratory ailment, we learn, is caused by working at the sugar plantation, which runs an inhumane operation. His wife wishes they had moved away, but Gerardo refuses because his aging mother is so strictly attached to her house and land. Alfonso, who enters the story after 17 years away, wants to take care of his son but is met with disdain by his former wife. She warns him to stay away and not to feel like that is his home. There is some deep history between them, captured by acting loaded with heavy silences and charged atmospheres.
Writer-director César Augusto Acevedo’s choice to set his movie among sugar farmers enhances the family drama under the pressure of real deplorable conditions that such farmers in Colombia have endured. With scenes of abusive treatment that includes withholding pay from workers, Acevedo is able to portray a complex situation with powerful shots that include close-ups that show desperation in the workers’ faces. The focus on a family here shows the tip of the iceberg. From 2013 to 2014 massive national strikes included peasants and workers who were met with repression and violence from the government. Acevedo shows that helplessness through the lives of this family.
The social system of inequality and corruption becomes apparent when Alfonso, fed up with seeing his languid son slowly fade, takes him to the doctor. At the visit, the doctor offers no advice other than to prescribe more medication. Alfonso loses his otherwise somber and quiet demeanor only to shout that he will not take his son back to the house because he will die. His gradual demise becomes an apotheosis to show every fracture yet every possibility for redemption for this family.
At the core, the family conflict turns out to be Alicia’s attachment to her house and her land, which presumably was built and sustained through much sacrifice. Gerardo’s wife believes that the poor environmental conditions are killing him and wants to move away. There are also no job prospects other than the sugar farm where they work. Leaving with Alfonso would be a fresh start for the young family, but Gerardo cannot break away from his mother.
There is plenty of tenderness between the family and a deep love, which makes all these choices much harder. The silences, loaded with mixed emotions transport the audience into this perilous and tragic situation. Land and Shade is a masterful film that delivers a potency that seldom is felt at the movies. Though sometimes quiet, Acevedo gently delivers one of the most moving films about family and love.
Land and Shade runs 97 minutes, is in Spanish with English subtitles and is not rated. It has its Florida premiere theatrical run at the Miami Beach Cinematheque this Friday, Aug. 26. A screener link was provided by the Miami Beach Cinematheque for the purposes of this review. All images provided by Burning Blue.
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