Film Comment


THE TRANSGRESSIVE SOCIAL VISIONS OF BACURAU and Parasite may have helped prepare us for the chaos and iniquity of the COVID-19 era, but long before those films of class warfare, there was Luis Ospina. In Latin America, the revolution had a blueprint in the brazen works of the late Colombian director, who made over 30 films energized with the snap of genre and the spirit of revolt. Ospina was significantly younger than most directors of the Pan-American Cinema Novo—e.g., Brazil’s Glauber Rocha, Argentina’s Fernando Solanas, Cuba’s Julio García Espinosa—but such generational and aesthetic distance suited Ospina just fine. Born in Cali, Colombia, in 1949, and educated in Los Angeles in the ’60s and ’70s, he was a selfstyled cinematic punk rocker. While at UCLA, Ospina devoured experimental cinema and American B-movies in equal measure. In the same vein as Quentin Tarantino and Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles, Ospina imbibed Hollywood and then adapted it to his quixotic tastes.

For Ospina, this meant bending genre in every possible way. His documentary-manifesto film, (1977) was an outrageous hybrid that criticized the left for presenting illusions of doing good while sensationalizing poverty. The 29-minute short follows a crew of reporters (played by Ospina’s friends, including co-screenwriter Carlos Mayolo) as they drive through Cali, bossing around and then choreographing its poor for their crude flash-exposés, generally acting “like two fucking vampires,” as one character says. Ospina’s actual vampire movie, (1982)—particularly apt for our grim pandemic times, when the social fabric frays along class divides—was a savage satire in which the spoiled, selfish rich cannibalize the vulnerable poor. At the film’s center, a mortally ill old sugar tycoon requires constant blood transfusions, and his cocaine-addicted, ruthless henchmen kidnap and murder youngsters in poor neighborhoods for fresh supplies. Yet Ospina also makes the criminals appear bungling and laughable, mixing elements of horror, exploitation, and comedy. After a long hiatus from fiction films, Ospina’s (1999) was both an homage to film noir and a languid melodrama that drew partly on real events—and like centered on nefarious behavior by the powerful and the wealthy. (2008), on, about a famous and ubiquitous Colombian artist who in fact never existed.

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