la_playa_dc_xlgJuan Andres Arango Garcia’s feature film debut, exquisite urban drama La Playa D.C., which screened as part of the Un Certain Regard lineup at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival, takes a viewer intimately into the daily struggles of Tomas (Luis Carlos Guevara), an Afro-Colombian teenager who has fled the Pacific coast to live in Bogota. Through Tomas we understand the difficulties of growing up in a city of exclusion and racism. When his younger brother Jairo (Andres Murillo), a targeted drug addict with a debt, disappears, he shacks up with his newly returned, street-savvy older brother, Chaco (James Solis). Their mother’s no-nonsense partner and a newborn push Tomas onto the streets and rather than catching the first bus out of town he decides to seek out and help Jairo. Tomas and Chaco vow to save up any cash they can earn – the means come from a variety of means; unloading goods at a market, shining the hubcaps of motorists – in preparation for their escape. But, the custom haircut profession immediately attracts Tomas and could offer an opportunity for him to utilize his developing skill set, cultivate an identity and earn a clean living.

The enthusiastic youngster, who only has the clothes on his back and some meager possessions in a pack, befriends the owner of a barber in the mall – the entrepreneurial hotspot where Tomas and his brother find themselves harassed by security – and is hired as an apprentice to learn the craft. He is given the freedom to use some of his own designs, drawn with coloured pencils on old newspaper. At the same time he tries to win the affections of a young female mall employee, but his unpredictable family situation threatens both endeavours.

Tomas’ journey of initiation on the streets results in the loyalty of brotherhood and the search for an individual identity becoming fierce opponents. Any decision Tomas makes for himself in some way directly affects his relationship with his brothers, and he finds reasons to remain in Bogota despite Chaco being adamant there is nothing for them there and that their future rests back on the coast.

With compelling non-professional performances and an astoundingly real and authentic approach to storytelling, this confident and starkly photographed social realist drama tells a small story but offers a peek into the damaging equality of an unstable foreign culture. I expect the lone opportunity to see La Playa D.C film will be offered by next month’s Latin American Film Festival and it shouldn't be missed.  

[rating=4]

Andrew Buckle - follow Andy on Twitter here: @buckle22