Gente de Bien
This overly earnest debut is lifted by spirited newcomer Brayan Santamarià
In modern day Colombia, just as in the rest of the world, the gap between rich and poor grows ever wider, swallowing entire generations in the process. This is the bleak reality at the heart of Gente de Bien, the debut feature from Colombian director Franco Lolli which, although nothing new, is a solid entry in the enduring stable of Latin American social cinema.
The film approaches the issue through ten-year-old Eric (Brayan Santamarià), sent to live with his estranged father Gabriel (Carlos Fernando Perez), who scrapes together a living as a carpenter. After taking pity on their plight, his wealthy client Maria Isabel (Alejandra Borrero) invites the pair to spend Christmas with her family. Initially everyone is welcoming but the festive facade soon begins to crack – and it's Eric who bears the emotional brunt.
Staying just on the right side of melodrama, Gente de Bien – which translates as either 'good people' or 'well-off people' – is a well-observed snapshot of life below the poverty line. Through nuanced human interaction, Lolli effectively makes the damning point that this is an endemic problem which, despite the good intentions of individuals like Maria, is embedded in the Colombian psyche. This is particularly clear in the behaviour of the children; initially friendly, they soon turn on Eric and he becomes an outcast for no apparent reason other than he is an interloper who simply does not belong.
As Eric, newcomer Santamarià is outstanding, his infectious energy propels the narrative and adds real weight to its message. Without his buoyant spirit the film may have buckled under its own good intentions as Lolli's determination to highlight the drudgery of deprivation sometimes results in a sluggish tone. As it is, Eric's innocent antics – dancing to a favourite song, splashing in a pool – are enough to prevent this story from becoming entirely moribund although, as the boy's eyes are opened to the injustices around him, these joyous moments become fewer and further between.
Selected release from Fri 17 Apr.