“Memory is a mirror that scandalously lies.” –Julio Cortázar
Tapping into generalized trauma resulting from the armed conflict in Peru between the army and the Shining Path, a militant group, Magellanes delivers a powerful experience that will resonate with those unfamiliar with the complex and violent history it depicts. The film delivers strong performances and heightened, suspenseful moments that build as the film progresses.
Harvey Magallanes (Damián Alcázar) is a former commanding officer with the army, but we meet him as a taxi driver. Through a chance encounter, Harvey picks up a young female passenger, Celina (Magaly Solier) who reminds him of his past. He follows her to a self-help reunion with dozens of chanting fanatics screaming “Yes I can!” Soon we learn that this young woman is having economic problems, she is shy and seems to be a sweet well-intentioned woman. For Harvey, the encounter leaves him shaken, As he comes home, we find that he also holds a sketch of this young woman hidden, likely a prized possession in an otherwise humble and minimal life.
The chance encounter with Celina not only re-opens old wounds from a violent past, but for Harvey it is also a chance to find redemption. Alcázar delivers a raw and powerful performance and even comes up with a Peruvian accent with a delivery that slowly unravels the human frailty of a fighter. Although Harvey leads a quiet life as a taxi driver, he has never been too far from his past. He drives around Colonel Rivero (Federico Luppi), a now senile but still quite unpleasant character that insists in treating all those around him as servants, or worse, threats. Celina, an indigenous young woman, does not recognize Magallanes, but he knows her as the young girl that 14 years earlier was kidnapped by Col. Rivero and used for sex during the armed conflict. When Harvey learns of her economic woes he insists in helping her out sets on a complicated plan to get money for her.
There is no doubt that for those familiar with Peruvian history, this may be an uncomfortable film — one that brings up the many atrocities of the still quite recent past. The photography captures the grittiness of the big cities in Latin America, and the daily struggle that is living in that environment on a daily basis. Even though the civil war has ended and there is some incipient democracy, the inequality of everyday remains as present and as heavy as ever. The story of Celina is a powerful reminder that for hard-working, indigenous women this oppression has never ceased.
The collateral damage of civilians enduring the chaos and wartime is also on display. The memory of the traumatic events is still ever-present. Although Harvey tries to redeem his own history, the ambiguity of this character leaves the audience with much to think about as the wounds of the past are still wide open. the film does well in presenting this small story and how it reflects a country’s past that has implications for the difficult relationship with its indigenous people, which make up almost half of the total population in Peru.
Magellanes also represents Peruvian actor Salvador del Solar’s directorial debut. It is indeed a remarkable opera prima by a writer-director who not only has a strong social conscience but also the patience and depth to bring to life complex, rich and deep characters. This is a not-to-be-missed cinematic event, one that will surely leave audiences at the edge of their seat.
Magellanes runs 109 minutes, is in Spanish with English subtitles and is not rated. It opens in our South Florida area exclusively on Friday, Sept. 30, at the Coral Gables Art Cinema. Images and a screener link was provided by Meikincine Entertainment for the purposes of this review.