The Twisted Histories of Cali, Colombia: Luis Ospina at the Spectacle

pura sange-luis ospina

Pure Fictions: The Films of Luis Ospina
April at the Spectacle

With the Paris protests of 1968 still wet on the tongue, the 70s saw a creative revolution in Cali, Colombia. At the center of this visionary surge was Luis Ospina, a founding member of the Grupo de Cali, a collective of filmmakers, artists, and writers dedicated to capturing the social reality in their country. Ospina and founding members of the group sought to unveil the corruption and hypocrisy of the Colombian government, often by presenting “counter information,” almost as if conceptually sneaking in through the back door. Questioning the conditions and presumptions of political cinema, the group traversed their own path, reflecting not only on documentary film histories, but also on popular cinema, including genres of horror and noir. By negotiating the political while including questions of the popular, the group re-evaluated cinema’s role in society, and changed the face of Latin American filmmaking.

A decisive entry point into the films of Ospina is the early short documentaries, made in collaboration with Grupo de Cali founding member Carlos Mayolo. Oiga Vea! (See, Hear!), the first collaboration, shot in the style of vérité, was an attempt to document the 6th annual Panamerican Games, held in Cali in 1971. The filmmakers arrived to the event “too late” and were not admitted inside; however, they decided to carry on with filming, from the outside. Rather than witness the action of the games, we, the viewers, become a spectator to impressions of exclusion and devastating social division. The crew traveled to slums, and interviewed people outside the stadium; ironically, all of these “common people” had to fund the games via taxes yet not a single one could come close to affording entry, a notion that comes to mind when considering recent FIFA World Cups. As we periodically hear the President giving a welcoming speech, we witness hordes of military occupying the streets, a stern indication of prevalent social control.

1982 saw Ospina move away from documentary and into a genre-defying twisted horror show. Pura Sangre opens with a gruesome murder scene, and it doesn’t take long to learn that the trio of killers is attached to one Don Roberto, a sugar magnate rife with malaise: his only cure happens to be the blood of healthy young boys. What transpires is shocking, and it’s not necessarily the killings themselves, but how the killers compose themselves indifferently; after a fun, coke-induced night of murder (and rape of a corpse), one killer goes home to be greeted by his wife and children who are going to school, while another casually enters his home to a hot breakfast. Meanwhile death seems to always permeate the air: children play in the streets at night dressed in costumes of skeletons and vampires (one claiming he is there to “suck blood”), and give a funeral procession to a rag-doll corpse; a nun tells other children an utterly violent version of Little Red Riding Hood before bed; and even young Roberto’s office fish tank has a toy skeleton, often revisited by the camera. The murders—a reference to the “Monster of Mangones,” a series of child disappearances that sent a shockwave through Cali during the filmmakers’ childhood—may, in this case, have been all for nothing. In a story arc referencing the invasion of violent drug cartels into 1980s Cali, Roberto’s empire soon falls to pieces via a series of corruptions from seedy gang members, and a bloody finale ensues. Finally, after all is said and done, the three killers sit with children by a lake, masticating chicken off the bone, as if murder is fully masked and thrives completely in normalcy.

Ospina once again shifted gears for 1999’s Soplo de Vida, a Hollywood-style noir. The film, a web of narratives steeped in chain-smoking squalor, concerns the curious death of a sex worker, and ultimately Ospina once again unveils a collage of deception and corruption that loom in his nation. The notion of collage is key to the most recent film on view at the Spectacle, Un Tigre de Papel (2008), a documentary study into the life of mysterious collage artist Pedro Manrique Figueroa, who would disappear for years at a time. A collage in itself, the film interweaves found footage and interviews with people who knew the artist, yet the information extracted from the interviewees are memories, perhaps even hearsay, a reference to the temporal quality of collage itself. Ospina utilizes collage as a means to tell complex histories, yet the end result is more a ghost story. At one point an interviewee remarks that Figueroa was a “bad prophet.” After experiencing the trajectory of Ospina’s work, it could be said that the filmmaker himself is somewhat of a prophet. For decades his style has metamorphosed, yet his radical disclosure of twisted histories thrives throughout the oeuvre serving as a doctrine, an unwavering artistic impetus of revelation.

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