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Manos Sucias – Dirty Hands

Film Review

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By Ron Merk

There a many things about this film that I liked, much that is commendable. It is a first directorial effort by Josef Wladyka and in many ways suffers from the same problems as almost all first features.

I liked the two main actors very much. Jacobo (Jarlin Javier Martinez) and Delio (Cristian James Abvincula) were clearly believable as brothers who barely knew each other, but through the crucible of their experience running drugs along the South American coast, they came to understand one another. Through their eyes and story we see the despair of Afro-Columbia youth looking for a way out of the mire of poverty and despair, and taking any road to escape, even one that is dangerous, and which might be a path to doom or worse, damnation.

Working under very difficult physical conditions (shooting on beaches and at sea), Director of Photography, Alan Blanco (who also co-wrote the film), gave us a very close up and personal view of the protagonists as they do their first drug run, working with some pretty bad guys as their bosses. Mostly hand-held but steady, we feel as if we are witnessing a real event, and not watching a movie. Water, heat and sand are the worst elements to fight when making a film, and it’s very clear that the DP and the crew overcame these impediments very handily.

The music is a major element to the film, and while occasionally the music takes over, turning a scene into something akin to a music video, it’s a driving force in the film, giving the film breadth and texture. I especially loved the funeral choral sounds with its Afro and South American roots.

Once we get past the many superfluous characters at the beginning of the film, director Wladyka takes us along on a perilous journey. We see the physical and emotion damage to the main characters through the director’s careful focus on the changes that overcome both of them. There is an occasional non-professional actor in the film that pulls the quality down, but for the most part, they acquit themselves quite well.

I did not like the ending, which seemed abrupt and a bit premeditated to shock us. I felt in some ways as if the writer and director did not actually have an ending for their characters, that another chapter in their story was waiting to be told. I was looking for one more scene with some resolution and some sense of what they would do next.

It seemed clear to me (since I began my career as a film editor) that this film was still in some ways a “work in progress,” looking for more definition, better choices, and clarity in its storytelling.

Having said that, I do think that Wladkyka is a talented director, and I believe that with more experience, he will improve at a very fast rate. He’s definitely a talent to watch.