Colombian director Carlos Moreno’s debut film Perro Come Perro, which premiered at Sundance and was shown at the Miami International Film Festival, captures the universal reality of greed and its cancerous effect on humanity. He does so with excruciating intensity and a keen eye for black humor found in the most violent of situations. It’s an adrenalin shot, not for the timid, that snatches your attention from the first frame and doesn’t let you go.
The setting for this Pulp Fiction-meets-Serpent and The Rainbow a lo criollo, takes place on the gritty streets of Cali, Colombia. Two thugs cross the wrong man and become unknowingly marked for the ultimate punishment; and it isn’t necessarily death. Brujería plays an important roll in this film and as Moreno mentioned during a screening at the festival, “Most powerful characters in history and literature have always found advice and help from magical sources or shamans”. Think of Arthur and Merlin, or Tsar Nicholas of Russia and Rasputin; in Perro Come Perro, a powerful capo is aided by a bruja who promises to bring down his enemies with methods more frightening than knives or bullets.
Víctor Penaralda (Marlon Moreno) and Eusebio Benítez (Oscar Borda) are two paid criminals brought together in a small seedy hotel room to await a “job” without realizing the joke is on them. The conflict unravels and paranoia levels escalate with every twist and turn as judgment day looms dark and heavy upon them like a recurring nightmare.
This visually stylish film duplicates the nauseating feeling of eminent danger through the heavy use of color. Non-glamorous yellows and greens turn an already harsh reality into a scorching hell where characters appear clammy and desperate. The use of a handheld camera gives the film’s tense scenes a realistic documentary-like feel that keeps the suspense taut, making Perro Come Perro neo-noir at its best. A catchy soundtrack including music by Superlitio , La Mojarra Eléctrica and Malalma compliment the urban settings and raw scenes very well. The fusion of salsa and other Caribbean rhythms mixed with drum and bass and a little rock, make an ideal background for this apocalyptic tale.
As any good director, Moreno also aimed for the acting to be flawless in this production (and shouldn’t that be a rule for every movie ever made?) TV actor Marlon Moreno plays Víctor –a criminal willing to put everything on the line for his family– with quiet intensity and we see the unbendable determination and desperate paranoia of a man making instinctive decisions. Oscar Borda’s Eusebio begins as a rough ruthless thug who goes through horrific psychological and physical effects of witchcraft, ending up almost unrecognizable. On the light side, comic relief is provided by Sierra (Alvaro Rodríguez). His Pesci-like character creates a balance between Víctor and Eusebio, thanks to his sociopath behavior and hilarious one-liners. However, not all performances are as natural. El Orejón, played by Blas Jaramillo just isn’t as convincing as the rest of the characters.
This film was the first Colombian feature to make it to Sundance and even though it didn’t win any awards and was criticized for its violence, it quickly managed to get picked up by French film company Celluloid Dreams. After a warm welcome at the Miami Film Festival, Perro Come Perro will be shown next at the Guadalajara film festival and then is off to San Sebastián to continue the festival circuit before it bites into theatres sometime this year.