IFFR 2020: IN THE MIDDLE OF THE LABYRINTH, BY SALOMÓN PÉREZ

This entry was posted on January 22nd, 2020

By José Sarmiento Hinojosa

Three films come to mind from the last 20 years when talking about the teenage coming-of-age genre. From Andrea Arnold’s magnificent Fish Tank (2009), to Larry Clark’s The Smell of Us (2014), all the way across the ocean with Raúl Perrone’s masterpiece P3ND3JO5 (2013), there seemed to be a shared sensibility from their authors, an intention to dig deeply into the soul of their protagonists: classless, outsider young men and women living in a rarefied atmosphere, in an opposite margin. Each of these filmmakers rendered masterful renditions of teenage drama, of corporeal intimacy and restlessness (Clark), of oppressive, marginal spaces (Arnold), of intense poetic experimentalism (Perrone). The backbone of these films was, and is still, a cinema that resonates deep inside the small universe of this youth.

Thus, Salomón Perez main problem when returning to these familiar codes in In the Middle of the Labyrinth (En el medio del Laberinto, 2019), is that it feels all too mundane. There is, indeed, a noble intention of portraying his native city, Trujillo, and a small community of skater kids that dwells in these streets among the city landscape. The first minutes are promising: the backdrop of lights in the horizon, a night sky, and the boxed 4:3 16mm shots seem to establish certain intention of giving the city a prominent protagonism in the story unfolding, the urban spaces marked as the domain of these young amateur skaters, the idle first conversations and the impassivity of their characters, they all add to a certain prospective idea. But soon, some mishaps in montage (certain sequences assembled with a video-clip aesthetic which quickly distract the spectator) and an over empathization of the metaphor (the phone antennas in town can work as a resource, but in its insistence to resemble a certain symbol, the shots remark, and over remark what should be a subtle wink) take a promising idea to the field of the already seen.

Plus, the director’s image of an aseptic youth is too disconcerting. Far, far away are the radical, difficult ideas of a Harmony Korine through Larry Clark’s direction in Kids (1995), the marginal aspect of a community of struggling people, the inner pulsions of the beginnings of sexuality, the excesses. There is a certain confort in this portrayal of a love story of two kids that only seem to live their youth in the most of surgically-disinfected emotional atmosphere, something that feels overly difficult to watch, an asepsis that doesn’t quite work in the backdrop of an urban city. There’s never a true conflict, no violence, no bodily humors or fluids, only a hint of a rejected kiss, all of this reinforced by the use of an indie-pop/rock soundtrack which deactivates any intention of giving this film a certain emotional weight (the Blag Flag/Bad Brains/Bad Religion and other punk posters are pure decor-despite a short dip into the hardcore local scene that feels completely out of place).

Indeed, not the radical cinema a country like this desperately needs, nor the Peruvian film of the year. There’s much intention in Perez’ filmmaking but also a lot of room for growth.

Bright Future Main Programme
Directed by Salomón Perez
Producer: Silvia Arellano and Ponce de León
Cinematography: Ponce de Leon
Cast: Renzo Mada, Astrid Casos Portocarrero, Pablo Ramírez, Junny Ynoquio
Peru, 2019
Drama
65′