[Variety, Posted on Variety.com, Sun., Feb. 1, 2004, 2:33pm, PT ]
Days of Santiago (Peru)A Chullachaki Producciones production in association with Cachoeira Films/Milcolores Media. Produced by Enid Campos. Directed, written by Josue Mendez. Santiago - Pietro Sibille
By DEBORAH YOUNG
A surprisingly intense debut from Peruvian director Josue Mendez, "Days of Santiago" details a young war veteran's tragic inability to adjust to civilian society. Though convincingly set in the lower depths of Lima, the story embodies a universal truth about the experience of former soldiers in many times and places. Edgy camerawork and a volcanic perf from lead Pietro Sibille should appeal to international distribs looking for smaller, quality fare.
At 23, former Navy Seal Santiago (Sibille) has returned to Lima's slums after fighting for years against Equador and terrorists. He and his buddies (one in a wheelchair) are far from genre stereotypes -- they're reasonable young men who want a normal life far from the killing fields. Every door seems closed to them; on their soldiers' pensions, they can't buy a refrigerator, much less an education.
While his friends plan to rob banks, Santiago refuses to return to the stress of living in constant danger. He starts driving a cab and doing computer training part time. Underneath, however, he's a tumult of suppressed rage and paranoia.
Santiago's marriage breaks up not for lack of love, but because he can't control his violent reactions. He struggles to impose a maniacal order on his life and those around him. Failing that, he desperately tries to imitate the young people who flock to an all-day discotheque.
Unable to handle any kind of incident without exploding in frustration, he grapples with his overwhelming inner contradictions until the tension explodes. Finale sidesteps predictable cliche in favor of psychological complexity.
Sibille earns sympathy in a tough, gritty role that still leaves room for kindness and noble sentiments. Supporting cast creates a realistic wall against which he slams his traumas. His feuding slum family is particularly unforgettable.
Mendez adopts a mixed style of color and B&W photography, which is alternated without apparent reason. A constantly moving camera and fairly rapid-fire cutting give film a jagged, modern look.
Read the full article at: http://www.variety.com/story.asp?l=story&r=VE1117922977&c=31
[Buenos Aires Herald, Sun., Apr. 18, 2004]
By Pablo Suárez, for the Herald
Fortunately, filmgoers at the VI edition of the booming Buenos Aires International Festival of Independent Films didn’t have to wait long to find a truly remarkable feature running in this year’s official competition. Dias de Santiago, the film debut of 28-year-old Peruvian director José Méndez, spins the tale of Santiago, a war veteran who strives hard to find a place in civil society, yet feels everthing around him is hostile, menacing, and on the verge of collapse. To him, the only way to survive in this urban human jungle is to keep fighting, as if he were still a soldier at war.
As the director himself stated at the end of a quite successful screening, he took the legendary Martin Scorsese’s lead character in Taxi Driver as the basis for the construction of Santiago. That, and a few other parallels in the plot are reminiscent of Scorcese’s film, but that’s as far it goes. Dias de Santiago, indeed, is by no means a case of copycat filmmaking. Instead it takes Taxi Driver as a star off point to draw an altogether different picture of Peruvian outcasts. This is un unflinching indictment of the was the Army can only destroy what’s human in a human being. It is also a grim and never condescending depiction of a society gone awry, with no was out for those abandoned by society itself.
With a most brilliant performance by Pietro Sibille as Santiago ( and a great ensemble cast as well), the film is narrated from his subjective viewpoint and this it intertwines grainy black and white photography (which renders the protagonist’s inner turmoil) with colour aimed at depicting everyday reality as it is, as opposed to how the protagonist perceives it.
Moreover, Santiago, is the first person narrator of the film, and thus his voiceover is the main vehicle to convey the traits of this semideranged mind. And yes, the voice over functions quite well since it never illustrates what the images show, but rather provides a counterpoint to them. Above all, what makes this film so valuable is its astounding verisimilitude and the way it grasps reality - bluntly. And, at the same time, it avoids blows below the belt and never hammers its message into views. Instead, it casts an utterly lucid gaze upon so complex a subject matter. (…)
[Cahiers du Cinéma, May 2004, “Cinéma en DV-loppement”]
By Elisabeth Lequeret (Trans. Gudula Meinzolt, Asa Greenberg)
In DIAS DE SANTIAGO, Mendez presents Lima as a large city (pubs and nights of drunkenness for some, unemployment for others, weariness for all); it is also the territory for a mental battle, which pits Santiago against his surroundings. Mendez conveys this tension by alternating black/white and couloured sequences.
This somewhat naive modernism has enabled DIAS to generate significant praise (it’s been showered with prizes in Toulouse, Fribourg, Alba). But the film’s real force is in the elegance of the actors’ direction, and in its precise mise en scène.
In interviews Méndez expresses an eclectic love of cinema, mentioning in no particular order - Wong Kar-Wai, Lelouch, Trapero (Mundo Grua/Crane World)), Gutierrez Alea (Memories of Underdevelopment) and The Gospel According to St. Matthew. Prior to his work on Dias de Santiago, Mendez worked as an editor on films (directed by his compatriot, Alberto Durand), and as an assistant director on commercials. Like most of his collegues, closely connected to cinemathèques and maniacally in love with DVD, Mendez’ life is cinema, but he is living on publicity.
Interview with Josué Méndez, Peru:
"The writing of this script took me three years. Then I followed Coppola’s method: lock up the actors in a house for two months and ask them to improvise. During the rehearsals I threw away 70% of the script. I got inspired by the actors, especially by Pietro Sibille [his main actor, NDLR] who enriched the script a lot. The real Santiago by whom my film is directly inspired, stayed with us during all the rehearsals and the shooting. When we arrived to the point we wanted to get, we began with the shooting which took 24 days.
I made the film with my own ressources, some sponsors, the Hubert Bals Funds (Rotterdam) and the support by the workshop Produire au Sud (Festival of the 3 continents, Nantes). I filmed in Super 16mm for economic reasons but also because I prefer this grain to the one of 35mm. Today in Peru, a whole generation of young filmmakers is going to be well known. Last year, a first film, Palomas de Papel, by Fabrizio Aguilar, drawed 300.000 spectators. El destino no tiene favoritos by Alvaro Velarde was presented in Rotterdam. Many other filmmakers are about to finish their first films: Eduardo Mendoza, Baltazar Caravedo, Jorge Carmona and Claudia Llosa who won the prize for the best script at the Havanna Film Fest.”
This sure-handed immersion into the mental state of a young Peruvian war veteran is as disturbing as it is subtle. Filmmaker Josué Méndez gets right into the cortex of shell-shocked 23-year-old protagonist Santiago (Pietro Sibille, in a stellar performance), who has trouble grasping that the home to which he dreamed of returning while fighting in the jungle is as much of a hellhole in its own way. That’s not too surprising from an outsider’s perspective, given that home is the slums of Lima, with its mouldering pastel-coloured concrete, public washing stations and utter lack of social mobility. It’s a soul-destroying setting, and the film delivers an unflinching look - occasionally contrasted with cathartic visits to a clean, powerful, crashing ocean beach. Beyond describing the hopelessness of male youth in Santiago’s situation - despite their service to the country they don’t qualify for educational bursaries - the story also shows the plight of lower-class women, whose only bargaining chips are sexuality or abnegation through hard word, as well as the tragedy spawnded by a senseless cultural fealty to machismo. Grainy black and white images alternate with coulour in increasing frequency as Santiago finds that the paranoia and despair lodged in his brain becomes intertwined with his daily reality. The various members of Santiago’s believably dysfunctional family, the implosion of which leads to the inconclusive climax, are also startingly memorable.“ Gudrun Will, The Vancouver Courier, September 26, 2004
„Although he’s nowhere near as antisocial, and he’s much more attractive to women, the hero of this neorealist drama is basically a Peruvian Travis Bickle. Somewhat predictable in places, DIAS DE SANTIAGO in nonetheless more than redeemd by Josué Méndez’s dynamical directorial style, informed not by the usual hyperkinetics but by a deep sense or moral integrity. Cesare Zavattini would doubtless approve. „
MH, www.VanRamblings.com: 23rd Annual Vancouver International Film Festival Guide
Critiques presse, France
L’Humanité (Michael Melinard)
Véritable tableau de la fin de l'insouciance, dépucelage tardif, douloureux et nécessaire, c'est le film d'un observateur malicieux et privilégié, réjouissante réussite du contraire d'un donneur de leçons.
Positiv (Matthieu Darras)
La caméra de Josué Méndez, vissée à son antihéros comme les Dardenne à Rosetta, (...) dégage une force exceptionnelle. Un premier film choc, tout aussi limpide dans son propos que haletant dans sa forme.
Studio Magazine (Thomas Baurez)
Le réalisateur Josué Méndez (28 ans seulement !) brosse un portrait brut et sans concession de son pays. Pietro Sibille, l'interprète principal, au magnétisme rare, suggère parfaitement les conflits intérieurs de son personnage. Sa force évoque celle de De Niro dans Taxi Driver, dont ce long métrage peut aisément se réclamer.
Cahiers du Cinéma ( Nicolas Azalbert)
Par une maîtrise et une rigueur impressionnantes pour un premier film, le finale se soustrait (...) aux conventions et à l'idéologie à l'oeuvre chez Scorsese, conférant à Dias de Santiago une indépendance et une droiture rares, seules bases possibles pour l'édification d'un cinéma péruvien.
Press Release New York
DIAS DE SANTIAGO - New York Times, December 8, 2005
MOVIE REVIEW | 'DIAS DE SANTIAGO'
In Lima, Cab-Driving Veteran Boils With Rage of Alienation
By NATHAN LEE
Santiago Roman (Pietro Sibille) can't buy a refrigerator. The money he earns from taxi driving won't meet the minimum monthly payment, and when it comes to lines of credit, his status as a recently discharged sailor in the Peruvian Navy adds up to exactly nothing. Worse things have happened, and there is worse yet in store, but this latest hurt is one too many, and Santiago nearly cracks up with rage.
Written and directed by Josué Méndez, Dias de Santiago, his first film, zeros in on the disconnect between Santiago's sense of entitlement and the unforgiving realities of life in contemporary Lima. If Taxi Driver is one obvious model for this earnest, compact drama, Mr. Méndez also appears indebted to films of Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne. He hasn't the formal chops of those master cinéastes, but he shares their empathy for the dispossessed, and a tight, nervy point of view that hews close to the actor.
Mr. Sibille breaks no sweat under the scrutiny, giving a quiet, concentrated performance that lends heft to less than revelatory material. The frustrations of Dias de Santiago mount to an unresolved climax that grips you with sympathy for its beleaguered veteran - and leaves you wondering what its promising director will do next.
DIAS DE SANTIAGO - New York Post, December 8, 2005
HAIL 'TAXI' FROM PERU
By V.A. MUSETTO
DIAS DE SANTIAGO, Peruvian Taxi Driver.
SOMETIMES peace can be more of a hell than war. Case in point: Santiago Roman, the unlikely hero of Dias de Santiago, directed by Josue Mendez, a Yale-educated Peruvian. Santiago is a hunky 23-year-old veteran who has just returned to Lima after years in the jungle, fighting in Peru's war with Ecuador. I fought three years for my country, he tells anyone and everyone. But nobody cares. When Santiago and his wife try to buy a refrigerator, the salesman wants Santiago to show him the money, not his navy ID.
Family life is a mess: Santiago's wife is a nag; his father, a pedophile; his brother, a wife-beater. Santiago is barely able to contain his rage over his plight and the state of society in general. He stalks the streets, ready to take on anybody who looks at him the wrong way. Always be ready to reduce the enemy, he mutters, as if he were still in the navy.
Dias de Santiago arrives in New York after winning several prizes at international festivals. (I first saw it in Transylvania in 2004.) Comparisons to Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver can't be helped, especially when Santiago gets a gig driving a cab. In fact, Mendez admits that Travis Bickle was the basis for his angry young man.
Pietro Sibille is exceptional as Santiago, and the rest of the cast turn in dynamic performances. The jump cuts and grainy Super 16mm photography add atmosphere. If only Mendez hadn't chosen to alternate between color and black-and-white. The innovation is distracting and serves no readily apparent purpose.
DIAS DE SANTIAGO - Village Voice, December 6, 2005
Exact Fare: Peruvian Drama Takes 'Taxi Driver' Route
by David Ng
Peru may not have the same world-cinema cachet as Lat-Am heavyweights Brazil and Argentina, but judging by Josué Méndez's assured feature debut, the country has more than enough socioeconomic discontentment to foment a new wave of angry young cineastes. Set in a sweltering Lima slum, Días de Santiago recounts several weeks in the life of Santiago Roman (Pietro Sibille), a 23-year-old Peruvian navy veteran who returns home only to face unemployment, crime, and less than welcoming parents. His attempts at landing a respectable office job prove humiliating, and Santiago soon sinks into a debilitating depression. The movie's similarities to Taxi Driver (young war veteran, urban filth, pressure-cooker psychodrama) reach a thematic apex when Santiago accepts a gig as a cabbie. Like Travis Bickle though far less nuts, Santiago holds the sleazy world at a contemptible distance only to be gradually drawn in by the specter of lost girlhoodin this case, a gaggle of club-going nymphets ranging in temperament from madonna to whore. Méndez contrasts his protagonist's highly subjective journey with a neorealistic visual style. If the movie lacks narrative originality, it leaves a singularly raw impression of having spent time inside someone's sweaty, ill-fitting skin.