Image and sound as protagonists

The eight Hivos Tiger Award Nominees had their own special day at the festival. Our Young Film Critics, Archana Nathan, Taylor Hess, Martin Kudláç and Rowan El Shimi, saw the nominees and wrote reviews on all of them.

We see a black screen, and start to hear ambient sounds: several insect species, against a backdrop of flowing water. The image appears, a close-up of a creek filled with leaves and running water. The opening scene of Felipe Guerrero's Oscuro animal – competing for the Hivos Tiger Award at this year’s IFFR – sets the stage, tone and pace for the coming 100 minutes of cinema.

By IFFR Young Film Critic Rowan El Shimi

Oscuro animal follows three women whose stories don't intertwine, yet are vigorously connected. Each of the women resides in a different part of the war-torn Colombian jungle and escapes her reality as the film progresses, making her way to Bogota to find refuge. The political situation is barely referred to in the film – a deliberate choice on Guerrero's part. "One of the objectives of my film was to clear and recompose a new time. We proposed a film that deals with the abstraction; to not connect the reality of the film with the Colombian reality," he explains.

Three-dimensonal characters

Almost entirely devoid of dialogue, Guerrero relies on imagery (designed carefully by Fernando Lockett) and soundscape (by the talented Roberta Ainstein) to play a major role in the film's narrative. Guerrero juxtaposes violent, turbulent stories with serene, enigmatic images, creating a moving, immersive narrative that refl ects the Colombian reality – and perhaps even the reality of the casualties of war – on a larger scale. A mixture of close-ups showing alluring details of the heroines' expressions, along with larger frames showing the wider context these women live in, make up the film’s imagery. Even without dialogue, Oscuro animal manages to present three-dimensional characters and avoids falling into the trap of presenting these women merely as victims, and the men in their lives simply as vicious animals.

Feminine focus

The women find strength in their despair, enabling them to get out of their situations – sometimes through extreme measures we may not have expected them to take. "Women are resistant in the Colombian conflict, and most of the victims of this conflict are women. They have the force to escape and reconstruct life," Guerrero explains of his choice for the feminine focus, which is informed by his prior research into the Colombian conflict. The film almost acts as a sound installation. We hear everything, and every sound serves a purpose. When one of the characters is alone in her house, we hear her moan from an apparent miscarriage; we hear the jungle’s ambient sound, and the woman doing her chores. As soon as the man enters the house, he puts on the stereo and the loud music drowns out all other sound – signifying his lack of respect for her space once he's in the house.

Much of the preparation for the film was devoted to coaching the three actresses to convey their complicated roles without dialogue. Guerrero and the acting coach spent months working on the physicality of these characters, at times even getting tough with them to help prepare them for the mind-set of being trapped in the midst of war. "We were very dictatorial, especially for the para-military girl, we worked very strongly with her particularly," Guerrero explains of his work with actress Luisa Vides, who plays the challenging role of a para-military who is forced to perform sexual favours for her superior.

Oscuro animal is an artistic feat that requires a significant amount of focus, patience and active watching from its viewers. "The film is very hard to see, but it takes care of the audience," Guerrero comments. "It's a film that gives a hand to the spectator to see the film and see how the characters are feeling.”