For the last few days, the We Are One Film Festival has provided worldwide free access on Youtube to a number of feature films, short films, VR experiences, and filmed talks from a variety of film festivals around the world, highlighting voices in film that were exemplars of past festivals or unfortunately lost their ability to screen at these festivals due to the coronavirus pandemic. David R. Romay’s Detrás de la Montaña is among the films playing in the online festival. The film from the Guadalajara Film Festival’s selection follows a boy named Miguel who, following the death of his mother, breaks from his usual mundane routine and embarks on a quest to find and kill the father that abandoned him.
The film is visually stunning and the type of thing that makes me really miss being able to see movies on the big screen. With an expert use of varying close ups and wide shots conveying Miguel’s state of mind as we follow him through his journey, there can be an almost disorienting whiplash that truly puts the viewer in the mind of our protagonist, supplemented by muted colors that often transition to filling the whole screen as Miguel falls further into emotional states. Paired with barren deserts and cityscapes that seem to echo, it was capable of fully transporting me to another place and into another person’s state of being.
As for the plot of the film, I think there were some interesting ideas at play but I had a few issues with the ways some things were presented that made me feel a bit disconnected. When Miguel’s mother dies with hardly any screen time to establish her relationship with him. I found that it made it so the only way to relate to her was through Miguel, who we hardly know at this point, and through my own relationship with my mother which comes from an entirely different set of circumstances and doesn’t really enhance understanding of the film. That seemed to blunt the driving force behind the story, hindering it at various points later on, though Benny Emmanuel’s performance as Miguel was always quite adept and succeeded in bringing a sense of purpose throughout.
Soon after, as Miguel is conversing with Rudy, the first person he meets on his journey to find his father, I thought the dialogue felt stripped to only what was necessary for the plot and there seemed to be a lot left unsaid that the performers tried to convey, but perhaps a bit more dialogue would’ve helped flesh out both characters and make the moments more impactful. I found that to be a similar case at the next house he visited, though it was more emotionally charged which I enjoyed. Once starting to work at the furniture store, things slowed down and I appreciated that the story was given more time to breathe because, though each scene proceeded at a slow pace that allowed for getting into what was happening, the progression between them had seemed too quick, but some things at that point still progressed in a way that felt fast to me. For example, Carmela, a girl who Miguel had fallen for prior to his leaving home, hardly seemed to know Miguel when he approached her house having stalked her, but soon became close with him without much to explain why. Then she maintained an awkwardness after that hardly seemed befitting of their new relationship.
My main issue though was that I never felt like there was a good explanation of Miguel’s motivations. Wanting to find his father Arturo makes sense without much explanation but wanting to kill him was something that seemed to spring from nowhere and more on why would’ve perhaps helped to appreciate his journey and the fact that the initiating event in the story and the motivations of the only character we see through the whole film were both underexplained hindered it. Further, Miguel rarely seemed to struggle with that mission of his other than two notable scenes that faded too quickly.
I don’t know whether it was intentional or not but I detected shades of Heart of Darkness in the plot that at first seems to be a descent into madness, as our protagonist seeks to kill someone who is essentially a corruption of himself and the ideas he holds dear. Though I did like that Arturo, like the Kurtz figure in many adaptations, is eventually shown to be not this massive godlike figure but a man who is flawed and small and suffering, I was dismayed to see that he didn’t get even a second to present himself as that sort of figure and explain his actions. Other than one or two moments, there wasn’t a scene I disliked so much as wished for more from. I just wanted more tissue to connect it all and to spend more time with the characters and places so it wouldn’t feel as rushed. I would’ve been ecstatic if there was another hour to it to help those problems out. Despite the things I’ve said here being generally negative criticisms of the presentation of the plot, I don’t mean to entirely give the idea that I didn’t like the film, because I did enjoy it, especially with regard to the direction of the actors and the visual aspects which conveyed a coherent sense of vision for the film. The bulk of the issues came from trying to keep the film too short and, in doing so, keeping the writing from coming through as well as it could have, or perhaps from not having the writing to support the filmmaking in the first place. I definitely want to see more like it in the future, just with a stronger script and more time spent on the narrative aspects. The style is there and can be refined into something excellent.