Montreal International Black Film Festival: Low-level Colombian smugglers are just trying to stay alive in Manos Sucias

manos sucias boat
Manos Sucias (Dirty Hands) is a taut tale set in Buenaventura, on the Pacific coast of Colombia. Within the first few minutes we see several tough-looking guys and many serious weapons. (There’s even a little kid nonchalantly cleaning a revolver.) Buenaventura is obviously a dangerous place, and a quick Google search will confirm that, with headlines like: Colombian City’s New Face and Violent Underbelly Collide; Colombian port city terrorised by criminal gangs – BBC News; Welcome to Buenaventura, Colombia’s most violent city.

There are 400,000 people Buenaventura, though we only see a handful of them, in the roughest, poorest parts of town.

Our main characters are Jacobo (Jarlin Martinez) and his younger brother Delio (Cristian Advincula). They’ve been estranged for years but end up working on the same drug run for Don Valentin. It’s the first time that Delio has done this kind of thing; Jacobo is an old hand who plans to move to Bogota once the job is done. That made me suspect that things might not go well for these guys. Just think of all the films have been made about that one last heist, or the cop who is one week, or even one day away from his retirement.

Jacobo and Delio will help a man named Miguel (Hadder Blandon) to pilot a small, battered fishing boat north towards Panama. This will take several days. Attached to the boat is a “torpedo” filled with 100 kg of cocaine in small packets. All of the packets will be weighed at the checkpoint, the guys are told. Point taken, no need to elaborate further.

The torpedo is fitted with a tracking device just in case it comes loose from the boat. (Cough.) Miguel has a cellphone, a GPS locator, and a gun. Delio has a machete that he uses to open coconuts, among other things. Seeing these items, one wonders if, or more likely when, they will be used, and in what circumstances.

Jarlin Martinez plays Jacobo in Manos Sucias, a film from Colombia that's being shown at the 2015 Montreal International Black Film Festival.
Jarlin Martinez plays Jacobo in Manos Sucias, a film from Colombia that’s being shown at the 2015 Montreal International Black Film Festival.

During their trip they will have to worry about running into guerrillas, the military, the paramilitaries, and anyone else who might have designs on their cargo. These people will feel entitled to take anything they might have, including their lives. There’s nothing dashing or glamourous here. Just danger and dread.

Soccer and racism are recurring themes in Manos Sucias. Before the trip, Jacobo watches an informal game with an old friend. When told about the plan to move to Bogota, the friend says there are no blacks there, or hardly any. They’re only able to get the most horrible jobs, and it’s freezing there, too. Later, Jacobo, Delio and Miguel sit around a campfire, talking about the great soccer stars of the past. Seems like your typical male bonding stuff, until the white Miguel spoils the mood and makes some racist remarks to the Afro-Colombian brothers.

When some unexpected events take Miguel out of the picture, Jacobo and Delio continue with the mission. What else can they do? But what will happen afterwards? (They HAD been told that this would be the “easiest job you ever had.” “Like a paid vacation.” Ha!)

The music Manos Sucias is worth mentioning. Haunting tunes from Grupo Gualajo make use of soaring women’s voices and a marimba.

Fans of Colombian salsa might nod their heads (I did, anyway) when Jacobo has one of those “kids, these days!” chats with his brother, disparaging the rap music that Delio admires and suggesting that he listen to “something good,” like Grupo Niche, Nemus del Pacifico, or Orquesta Guayacan.

Manos Sucias (Dirty Hands) U.S.A./Colombia, 2014, 82 minutes, in Spanish with English subtitles
Directed by Josef Kubota Wladyka, with Cristian Advincula, Jarlin Martinez, Manuel David Riascos, Hadder Blandon. Spike Lee was an executive producer

Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015, at 5 p.m.
At the Former NFB Cinema, 1564 St. Denis
Admission is $10

Check the Montreal International Black Film Festival web site, for further pricing details, the film schedule, film synopses and trailers.
The Montreal International Black Film Festival has a Facebook page, too.

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