On September 12, 2005 a man in a wheel chair hijacked a plane traveling from Tolima to Bogota with two grenades hidden in his diaper. Porfirio Ramirez Aldana is the protagonist of his own story in Alejandro Landes’ Porfirio. More evocative than depictive, Porfirio portrays a man whose spirit surpasses the confines of his own body in order to confront the system that neglects him.
Ramirez’s hijacking was an attempt to draw attention to a stagnated lawsuit he had filed against the Colombian government; years earlier Ramirez had been caught in the cross fire of a police raid causing him to be paralyzed from the waist down. In the film, the hijacking is the culminating (and somewhat cryptic) climax. Instead Landes chose to focus on Ramirez’s quotidian existence and the motivating factors that led him to behave like a terrorist.
A central theme of the film is the conflict between the body and the soul, and the betrayal of one over the other. While Ramirez waits for compensatory funds from the state, he tries to make a living with a minuteria- selling cell phone minutes from his front porch. All the while he receives phone calls from people he doesn’t know, traveling salesmen offer him things he can’t buy, and the noise of the lively neighborhood around him is pervasive in the soundtrack despite Ramirez’s inability to join them. The languidness of his days is broken up by his son, Lissin, who picks up his shit, washes his hair and moves him from bed to wheelchair; and by chronic sexual encounters with his girlfriend Jasbleidy. All of these moments are captured with a fixed and unrelenting lens by Landes. No details of the effects of Ramirez’s handicap are left to the imagination. His grunts, sways, exertions, and strains are played out in real time, giving the film a type of airy yet uncomfortable pacing. Similarly, Landes’ usage of cinemascope creates a confining yet broadening visual tension. A format reserved generally for films with high production value given its width (or aspect ratio), with cinemascope we get a long frame with which to present the story. However, in the case of Porfirio, there is little to no production design (enhanced by Ramirez’s poverty), and hence our eyes are directed to the subject (Ramirez) at the center of the frame. This is an interesting choice because essentially Landes is showing us more of less.
In this sense, Porfirio presents an accurate portrait of contemporary Colombia, a country that desperately wants to shed it’s violent past and image; a country that limps toward prominence at the cost of justice. As Colombia struggles to join the first world with free trade agreements, stronger enforcement, militarization and the extradition of drug dealers to the US, there are tens of thousand of lawsuits against the government itself, out of the hundreds of thousands of crimes by agents of the state. Ramirez’s brush with the police is a relatively tame example in comparison to the crimes the government is on the hook for: known and implied affiliations to drug cartels, embezzlement, social/ethnic cleansing, affiliations to paramiliatry groups etc. And there are many, many more for which mayors, governors and presidents will never be investigated and indicted. Ramirez simply chose to act, to defy the state that had ignored him for years. He’s become a part of Colombian lore because he acted on the frustration that most of the population in the country feels. Can we truly say Ramirez is a terrorist? And what does that do to our definition and understanding of terrorism? Lastly, what does it say about the various rebel factions in Colombia and their role in the armed conflict?
Though Landes’ film is more lyrical than political, it can’t help but touch upon the complex realities of the country, and they are ones that have mutated as the Colombia rises- these problems have not gone away, the roots of the internal conflict have not been addressed. Like Ramirez aspires to leave his body so does Colombia wish to leave it’s bloody past behind and aspires to emulate an American notion of wealth and happiness. But what Landes' film shows us is that beauty lies in not turning away from the unsightly, that bravery lies in looking unflinchingly at our flaws so that we can address them and ultimately get past them.
Mary Angelica Molina is a writer, director and editor. Her films include OH BABY, I LOVE YOU! which won the prestigious cinematography award at Cameraimage in Poland (2009) and is available online via iThentic.com; and LA ROSA Y EL GATO (2006), which won the audience award at the Santa Ana Film Festival and is currently available via iTunes. Mary is currently developing her feature directorial debut DOLORES, MI AMOR, a surrealist story about a woman who has the voice of a man. At present she is also editing the feature documentary THE STATE OF ARIZONA for Camino Bluff Productions (FARMINGVILLE, Sundance, 2002) about Arizona's controversial anti-immigration law SB1070. Mary received her masters degree in screenwriting from the University of Southern California. She was born in Barranquilla, Colombia and currently resides in Brooklyn, NY. She loves to dance with sheer abandon.