Land and Shade

Studio: Outsider Pictures
Directed by César Augusto Acevedo

Jun 27, 2016 Web Exclusive
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Films about environmental destruction and the displacement of traditional groups are rarely subtle. If you care enough to make a film about these subjects, you probably feel a sense of urgency and passion about them; multilevel allegories and artful camera work just get in the way. All the more remarkable, then, that César Augusto Acevedo's debut feature Land and Shade manages to engender both urgency, empathy, and aesthetic satisfaction without compromising its central message. It's basically a simple parable about encroaching modernity, but its attention to detail — the long and wide tracking shots, the camera's lingering on facial expressions and quiet moments — make it plenty rich. It's a tough, downright Steinbeckian lament which wades neck deep in suffering without ever stopping to wallow in self-pity.

The film begins with Colombian sugarcane farmer Alfonso (Haimer Leal), who had left his land and family behind for 17 years, returning home to help his critically ill son Gerardo (Edison Raigosa) and his aging, estranged wife Alicia (Hilda Ruiz). Industrial sugarcane fields have taken over the land since he left, casting an ugly shadow on a simple rural life; frequent fires, a part of the harvesting process, rain ash everywhere, worsening the respiratory condition that has left Gerardo mostly bedridden for 12 years. Alicia is too rooted to the land to escape these tarnished environs, and Gerardo too rooted to her, even as his wife Esperanza (Marleyda Soto) and son Manuel (José Felipe Cárdenas) suffer for as much.

The familial drama is offset by the struggles of the impoverished field workers (which include Alicia and Esperanza), whose lousy working conditions and oft-withheld pay are a source of constant conflict. The mother and daughter-in-law's shared internal struggle between what is right and their own tradition of head-to-the-ground discipline on the job is told with nary a word between them, but it nonetheless speaks volumes about the film's central conflict.

Land and Shade is not the most dynamic film, in the American sense. There's a lot of stillness and quiet, no non-diegetic music, and little that one could call explosive. Even the flames which periodically lick the sky are imbued with a meditative quality. This will lead some to bemoan its "slow" pacing, its understated drama. If you put forth the effort to match its stride, though, there is plenty to see and feel here, and plenty to learn.

Author rating: 8/10

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