Note: This review contains some spoilers.
This is the first Puerto Rican film ever selected to play at Fantastic Fest, and I doubt it will be the last. Angel Manuel Soto’s debut feature is a very honest look into the lives of different people who are pushed to their limits of desperation.
Photos by ReMezcla
“La Granja” is a powerful film set against the backdrop of the barrios of Puerto Rico. Retired pro-boxer Fausto (César Galindez) exploits his ambitious son Santito (José Colón), training him to win a championship in an underground fighting scheme to pay off a cockfighting debt with Ruben, the local bookie. A local nurse, Ingrid (Amneris Morales) longs for a child, while everyday at work is forced to witness pregnant drug addict women giving birth. Lucho (Henry Rivera), a young drug mule, sees his older sister get high and have sex with her drug dealer boyfriend while keeping to himself.
Soto manages to set a tone of helplessness in his debut film because we never receive any explanations to any of the character’s motives, but each of their actions in their helpless reality help uncover layers of who they are.
We don’t know why Santito wants to be a boxer or if he wants to be one at all. The circumstances of his father’s debts may be the catalyst for the exploitation he endures, but it doesn’t stop him from his ambitions. The father/son relationship here is tough to swallow. Soto pushes that relationship boundary by pushing Fausto to not father but use his son for his own shortcomings that ultimately catch up to him and leave Santito on his own.
Ingrid wants to have a child, but why? We see her taking a pregnancy test before calling her casual lover Ruben for sex. She faces the one thing she wants everyday at work: a cruel torture for her. The pregnant drug addicts don’t deserve to have their children, according to Ingrid, and this takes her down a very dark path to getting what she dreams. Yet another comment by Soto on humanity and how far people are willing to push themselves into the dark to get what they want. Morales as Ingrid was great. Her vulnerability and strength she portrayed as Ingrid made me empathize with that character because I felt her need to want a baby to feel love and fill a void.
And then there is Lucho and the relationship or lack thereof with his sister. Lucho is a drug mule and mostly stays to himself. We don’t know why or how he became a mule, but it doesn’t really matter. The fact that he has no friends and is always looking to his sister even though she doesn’t want anything to do with him evokes a sense of emptiness and sadness. I felt for Lucho because we don’t know where his parents are or how he got to where he is, but we only see what he does daily, and it’s lonely.
The moment he steals his sister’s camera, getting into the wrong hands, is where it all goes downhill for his sister. Lucho was a tricky character to get right because he has so few lines, but Henry Rivera managed to really evoke Lucho’s longing for something, whether it be his sister or just getting out of what he is doing.
The film’s climax ties all three stories together when Lucho’s sister’s boyfriend who is a drug dealer is propositioned by his supplier of drugs. The two men want to trade sex with Lucho’s sister and two more girls for a year supply of drugs to her boyfriend.
The story is pushed further into the dark with this exchange of goods for sex. We see the couple in the opening scene having sex and in the end he’s more than willing to trade her in to get what he needs. More drugs for his business deals.
The overall commentary in this film is that desperation and the pursuit of happiness set amongst a backdrop of Puerto Rico’s economic crisis, drug addiction and economic debt can lead people to dark places and take them where they might not have wanted to go but do anyway out of need. Who knows if these characters even know how they got to where they are now? “La Granja” forces us to examine these three different yet similar stories and really look at how humanity is lost within each of the characters while they fight to get out of a harsh reality.
“La Granja” screening:
Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar Theatre
Tuesday, Sept. 29 at 1:45 p.m.