destiny

Francisco Lombardi is undoubtedly Peru’s most important director, having made a dozen or more feature films over the past twenty-five years. Moreover, the best of them, such as La boca de lobo or No se lo digas a nadie, have won international acclaim and rank at or near the top flight of Latin American cinema. What’s remarkable is that Lombardi has achieved this status almost single-handedly, and with an output that has offered a vigorous critique of successive governments and just about every section of Peruvian society.

Caidos del cielo posterCaídos del cielo (“Fallen from Heaven”) is an ambitious, accomplished, and very dark black comedy let down only by some less than stellar acting performances. It tells three loosely related stories (script-writer Giovanna Pollarolo has observed that with a little more daring it could have been the Amores perros of its time): a couple of elderly landowners, laid low by economic conditions and reformist politics, are trying to gather enough money to build themselves a marble tomb that would keep their remains in the style to which they still aspire; they give their now blind former housekeeper a pig that proves to be more trouble than it’s worth as the effort to fatten it up destroys what little family the woman has; and one of the couple’s tenants, who is presenter of a relentlessly optimistic radio self-help show, tries to put his own counsel into effect when he saves a young woman from suicide.

The self-help show’s title is “You are your destiny,” and it encourages its listeners to believe that fate is always in their hands. But its presenter Humberto comes to realize that, for some at least, this is far from the truth. When he starts to change his tune, telling his listeners that in some cases their wounds will never heal, he’s promptly sacked: such negativity is not what people want to hear.

Lombardi has no such desire to placate or patronize his audience. In Caídos del cielo there’s more emphasis on the fall than on heaven. Here all roads lead to death, which is the only thing certain in life. (In Peru at least the other great certainty doesn’t hold: the publicity for Chicha tu madre claims that of 28 million Peruvians, only 140,000 pay taxes.) At least the down-at-heel aristocrats achieve their dream of ensuring that their cadavers will be laid out in one of the finest mausoleums in the cemetery, but the price they pay is that what remains of their lives becomes more of a living death. Still, their fate is several notches above either that of the suicidal woman, whose name we never learn but whose terrible and irredeemable secret is what brings Humberto down from his lofty gospel of feel-good salvation. And the lowest of the low are represented by the blind grandmother and her two urchin grandchildren, who eke out a living on the garbage dumps of Lima’s beaches. And if Humberto seems to learn that niceness is not enough (with perhaps some last-minute and far too late regrets over this lesson), the aristocrats and the urchins alike have long since abandoned even any pretense of politesse.

Caidos del cielo stillThe film is set during the years of rampant hyperinflation that characterized Alan García’s first presidency. Its implication is that as all sense of economic value vanishes, as a tomb comes to be more valuable than a mansion and budgets turn into worthless pieces of paper, so also good intentions become little more than ratings-driven lies and a champion pig’s life comes to be worth more than a child’s. Some dream of escape: the mistreated grandchild, for instance, declares he’ll make his way to the States in the steps of his mother. But in the end Lombardi seems to agree with the nameless young woman who believes that the only way out is to jump off one of Lima’s seacliffs.

YouTube Link: the film’s first ten minutes.

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