The Forest of Karadima
(Chile 2015 100m) CineHoyts La Reina
p Sebastián Freund, Matías Lira, Natalia Cummins d Matías Lira w Elisa Eliash, Alicia Scherson, Álvaro Díaz ed Andrea Chignoli c Miguel Ioan Littin m Camilo Salinas
a Benjamín Vicuña, Luis Gnecco, Ingrid Isensee, Pedro Campos, Renato Jofré, Francisco Melo, Gloria Münchemeyer, Andrés Reyes, Osvaldo Santoro, Christian Sève, Marcial Tagle, Ricardo Alfonso Vergara
This is a translated version of the review I wrote for El Agente Cine. You can read the original here.
The existence of a movie like this one in the marquee as well as its position in what we could call a history or evolution -as if it were a living being that needed, in some way, to advance- of Chilean cinema, in a majorly positive way. It’s a movie that’s not an easy watch, due to the dispair-filled atmosphere that manages to be created, but at the same time it’s a really prude film in terms of the possibilities that it has and that surely has to do with the actors that play the roles that possibly couldn’t go beyond what was morally correct to them, according to their own capacities, even though I don’t come to discredit the tremendous work done by most performers, that truly is applause worthy. For it to be a film about atrocities being committed, constant abuse and a couple of scenes that can scare a lot, without a doubt the lack of the explicitness kinda breaks the impact it may have, in a way appeasing the viewer: ‘I know they’ll never show a penis”, but the film plays with those limits, showing the tip of one clearly made of plastic.
Precise and delicate in its cinematography, the film presents itself without a conventional order, in the beginning as a recollection of the life of its protagonist, Thomas Leyton. A young man interested in the charismatic figure of the priest Fernando Karadima -played in an introspective way by Luis Gnecco-, enough for him to be seduced, enough for him to be part of the community denominated “The Forest”, enough for him to feel he has the vocation of priesthood, which is finally corrupted by his close encounters with the priest, who touches and violates him in many ways. Little by little, clearly, Leyton starts to see himself as an empty shell, he can’t do anything by himself if it doesn’t receive the approval of Karadima, who controls his youth, formation and, even older, his married life and practically every decision in his adult life. We could say that we are in front of a power relation that is overwhelming, where through the dispositions of faith and charisma, the priest can slowly get inside the private world (through confessions) and thus use guilt as a weapon in order to control those who are weaker.
It is, without a doubt, in the almost archetypical relation between Karadima and Leyton where the strength of the film lies, where the twists and moments are almost those of a romance film, those with multiple breakups and reconciliations, revenges, cheating, etc. We are witness of maybe the sickest love relationship that’s ever been represented in the Chilean silver screen, one that devolves into an absolute control and at the same time a discovery: the systematic way in which abuse is done. The film, narrative-wise, is structured around the retelling of Leyton since he joins “The Forest” (lamentably, here the metaphor of the darkness of the forest, the mystery, yet at the same time the protection it concedes, is spelled out by the movie itself, as if the viewer wasn’t able to understand the relation by himself, given the name of the film, which does force the metaphorical sense of the word and not its real use), in some way telling us the behind-the-scenes of what would be the denounce and posterior television interview did with many abused about the crimes of Karadima. That binding to a reality and the need for that to be the closure, surprisingly helps the film, that at the time seemed to be a simple repetition of abusive archetypical patterns, but without any catharsis.
Because in the 100 minutes that this movie uses, it is accurate in detailing every minutiae, every detail, without leaving nothing (and at the same time a lot) to imagination, and when we are in the fourth or fifth occasion of abuse between Karadima and Leyton we already get it. On the other hand, if there were to be a dangerous borderline element to those scenes, a visual border that is being broken in some way, the necessity of saying something else, something to talk about, even just for the sake of having people talking, it wouldn’t have been bad. But at the time that Karadima penetrates Leyton under the covers of his bed (in a way feeding the image and figure of the secret that can’t be revealed, but at the same time substracting any visual impact), we’ve seen so much, we are so embedded in the plot and this ‘relationship’, that for some it may even be cute, even though the context is horrendous, specially in the realm of sexual abuse.
The previous film of this director, ‘Drama’ (2009), seemed very interested in bodies in movements, the sensual bodies. It would’ve been an interesting continuation of that project within this narrative, specially when we have bodies that aren’t really as attractive like the postmodern theater actors that populated the director’s first film, as is the old body of Karadima, the body of a priest. That’s interesting, how a priest moves, we see very little, we feel little and we are left with little for later. But even after all that, all’s a bit countered by the actoral presence of Luis Gnecco and, in some way, Benjamín Vicuña. All this with the presence and introspective voice of Francisco Melo. We are maybe before one of the best casts in a Chilean film in a long time, with an uniform acting hability and without any performance that makes noise or sounds fake.