Juan Andres Arango (director)
Network on Air (studio)
16 July 2018 (released)
16 July 2018
This gritty and compelling world drama by Colombian-Canadian writer-director Juan Andres Arango intertwines the stories and the fate of three misfit teenagers in search of belonging and identity. Although the three youngsters live thousands of miles apart (Colombia, Mexico and Canada) their stories resemble similar echoes of hope and disillusionment.
The first story begins in Mexico and although (as the film goes on) the individual plots glide back and forth between the countries, for reasons of simplicity this reviewer will depict each of the three tales one after another.
In a tiny and ramshackle Mexican village lives David (Bernardo Garnica Cruz), a young farmer boy who lost his parents and feels his village has nothing to offer him. Off he goes to Mexico City with a small suitcase, in the hope to find a better future, but the only work he is able to get is as a builder at a construction site. To say the nature of his work is dangerous (we are talking the construction of a high-rise building) is an understatement while at the same time the job is poorly paid, considering the risks involved. Nonetheless, David strikes up an unlikely friendship with a colleague – a punk who happens to introduce David to the rather bizarre world of Mexico City’s underground punk scene. Forget about Mariachi bands for here, punk tunes delivered in Spanish hold reign supreme! As David’s physical identity changes (just like his new friend he soon dyes his hair and sports a spiky Mohawk) his emotional turmoil only increases… David initially stays at his cousin’s place, a perilous slum area divided into local ‘hoods’ and before he knows it, David has to choose between recruitment by protection racket or getting killed by rival gangs. His friend the punkster offers David to stay with him for the time being but for how long can he be safe? With this going on, David’s simple life back in the village of Michoacan suddenly doesn’t seem so bad at all…
It’s a slightly different story for teenager Alex (Jonathan Diaz Angulo) who lives in a coastal region of Colombia where he hopes to become a fisherman, just like his family did for generations. Trouble is, Alex has a boat that leaks and with no functioning motor at that. Just like David in Mexico, Alex too has no longer any parents and the responsibility to look after his younger brother as well as his elderly aunt weighs on him. Making the worst choice of his life, he asks the local drug dealer – a vile and ruthless individual – for a loan so he can get his boat fixed. Instead the drug baron offers him a paid job so that in time, Alex can afford a new fishing boat. Trouble is the nature of the job, which involves him navigating a skiff through dense swamps and dispose bodies from the local ‘chopping house’ – a secret building in which the drug dealer’s victims are first murdered before they are chopped to pieces and packed away in refusal sacks. Meanwhile, Alex’ aunt and his little brother (on the best way to become a criminal himself) keep collecting black clams for a meagre living. Alex sees no way out but to escape on a freighter direction US for the second time, because he already did so some time ago with an older brother when things went horribly wrong: after having been contained in a, well, container…the truth about his brother’s terrible fate comes to light while Alex eventually reveals to his little brother that during his apparent time in the US he was in fact imprisoned before the authorities deported him back to Colombia again. Realising that his future lies in his little village, Alex knows that in order to survive and to provide for his remaining family he must submit to the ruling drug dealer and choose a life of crime instead that of a fisherman.
Finally, Maria (Jembie Almazan) is a young Filipino teenager from Manila who travels to Canada’s west coast where her grandmother lives. After the death of her mother and with her father apparently having done a runner years ago, Maria too is damaged goods! Her gran is a well-meaning woman who went through the trouble of enrolling Maria in a well-respected French-Canadian language school but from day one Maria feels like an outsider and acts like one too. With no sense of belonging, she soon feels more and more alienated until she befriends a fellow Filipino girl, a no-good high school dropout who hangs out with a bunch of Filipino rappers cum juvenile delinquents. The more Maria’s gran, who admittedly is a bit on the strict side, tries to persuade her granddaughter that a proper education and a proper job are what life is all about the more Maria gets rebellious. Disaster strikes when, during a wild party with her friends, local police arrest her due to noise complaints. With her potential Canadian citizenship status in tatters and her gran up in arms, Maria – deeply confused – attempts one final and desperate act to highlight her unhappiness. Realizing that Maria will never fit into her new environment her gran eventually takes her back to Manila.
The performances by the three main protagonists, non-professionals by and large, are both harrowing and powerful, yet director Arango never allows for any hopeful conclusions. Whether the teenagers in question choose a life of crime out of necessity (as is the case with Colombian Alex) or whether they return to their place of birth (as is the case with David and Maria) after a misguided odyssey, there is no real happiness in store as a sense of personal loss and disillusionment forever seems to prevail.
X500 delivers an unsettling yet interesting insight into the lives of three individuals located at ‘the other side of the world’ but whose lives are dominated by personal tragedy, poverty and the apparent inability to choose the right path… or simply a more promising path.
The constant shift in languages (Spanish, regional dialects, French, English, Filipino) and the on/off use of subtitles might proof a trifle irritating for some viewers, and speaking of the subtitles: they are so small one almost needs a magnifying glass in order to read them – what’s going on here? Still, X500 is defo worth a look for all those who appreciate World Drama.