Days of the Whale (Arroyave Restrepo, 2019)

The selling point for Days the Whale, at least for me, was the setting.

It is set in Medellín, but it isn’t about drug traffickers. That alone makes it worth a look if you have any interest in the cinema of other cultures. Medellín is Colombia’s second largest city, and I lived in its largest, Bogota, for several years in the 1970s while my father was stationed as a diplomat. The world is a different place than it was forty years ago, but one seldom loses the affection one has for cultures one grew up with.

Unfortunately, Days of the Whale never quite leveraged that nostalgia into a particularly meaningful film experience. The story of Cristina and Simon, two graffiti artists who challenge the authority of a street gang by painting over a threat felt more generic to me than to those praising the film for its Colombian soundtrack.

Days of the Whale

Cristina’s mom recently moved as a result of death threats resulting from her investigative journalism. It’s unclear — or it was to me — whether her threats came from the same gang(s) that the young artists are provoking or whether her story is supposed to be the national version of the daughters more local conflict.

I did like the interactions between Cristina and her father, but these also felt as though they could be between most any father and daughter in most any culture. At eighty minutes, the film provides a long of screen time to the making of the murals and not enough on their significance. Director Catalina Arroyave Restepo has been praised, rightfully, for her confident camerawork. The film captures the color and vibrancy of the artwork that is too often the only outlet for young energy. But Arroyave Retrepo is the writer as well as the director, and the film doesn’t build in tension as it progresses.

Days of the Whale is currently 100% “fresh” at Rotten Tomatoes, but it has a less-impressive 6.25/10 rating, suggesting that most critics liked it, but only a little. It’s a promising debut and features a likable cast, but it may have some trouble attracting attention during its “virtual screening” window.

From the press release:

Available beginning JULY 24 on Virtual Cinema through theaters in the U.S. and Canada, in partnership with Strand Releasing. *During this COVID-19 theater closures, Outsider Pictures continues to offer online virtual screening rooms created specifically for audiences, with a virtual ticket price of $12 on premiere theatrical releases, and a 50-50 box office split with theaters.

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