15 May, 2012 | Carina Tucker
A film by Rodrigo Bellot
Released internationally in 2009, Rodrigo Bellot's latest film, Perfidia, had been eagerly awaited in Bolivia long before its first screening in the country in early March 2012. Bellott's justification for this delay was his desire to be present during the film's premiere, to show his appreciation for the support that his compatriots have given him throughout his career. The director is regarded as something of a national treasure in Bolivia. While he went to film school in New York, he is originally a camba and is best known for writing, producing and directing the independent films Sexual Dependency (a coming-ofage drama, 2003) and Who Killed the White Llama? (an on-the-road comedy, 2007).
Perfidia stars Gonzalo Valenzuela, whose acting debut in En la Cama was a tribute to Bellott. Interestingly, it was this actor himself who inspired the director to write Perfidia. Either Valenzuela was the protagonist, or the film wouldn't be made. Fate was on Bellott's side. Back in 2007, when he was approached with the script, Valenzuela had just experienced the same emotional state that Bellott wanted to put on screen. His four-month-overdue decision to accept the offer is something that not only Bellott is extremely grateful for, but that we too, as audience members, appreciate. What Bellott originally wrote as a personal exorcism, on screen provides emotional catharsis for his audience.
As the title suggests, Perfidia is a tale of amorous treachery. We follow the protagonist to one night in a hotel room, where he aims to put an end to his pain in bidding a final farewell to his lover. One man, one location, one desire. The simplicity of the piece is impressive: there are two minutes of dialogue in the entire film, with just three songs accompanying the otherwise sparse natural sounds. The film opens with the penetrating lyrics: "No one understands what I suffer". With this, we are transported into Valenzuela's inner world, experiencing his desolation, his solitude, his tormented sorrow. We see the road opening in front of us, the stark white of the snow-covered landscape, and see it as though we were the passenger in the bus. The power of the opening negative haunts us, staying with us as we are faced with the steady raindrops which blur our vision, the sense of death implied in the view of winter, the winding road which leads to an unknown destination . . . The director's use of pathetic fallacy is clichéd but effective: we become the protagonist.
We soon learn that nothing, with Bellott, is an accident. A dance scene, made resonant with Luis Miguel's "Ahora te puedes marchar", could superficially be interpreted as comic relief in a film which is intense and often quite laboured in its real-time movements. The lyrics, however, belie such a false reading: they are essential to the telling of the story. In what is one of the most unexpectedly powerful scenes of the film, its dark irony immortalises the protagonist's poignant sincerity. Bellott's achievement comes in exposing the protagonist's vulnerability in a profoundly sensitive way, yet he manages to portray it as a form of bravery. Valenzuela's masculinity is an ironic foil to his childlike weakness, something which is ultimately transparent despite his humorous posing to the camera. What shocks us most, however, is the realisation that Valenzuela is not the only vulnerable person in the room: we too are confronted with our innermost vulnerabilities, and this can be an uncomfortable identification to make.
Whilst addressing the audience at his film's premiere, Bellott cited Gandhi: "Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it." For Bellot, it was imperative that he make this film: it prevented him from "drowning in desperation and solitude". The film was a deeply personal and emotional release for Bellott, but even as he himself asserts, "the film is not mine". When released onto that cinema screen, the film becomes the spectator's. In its space of silence and reflection, the viewers project their own perfidies onto the screen. As the critic Lucía Querejazu explains, the viewer is not required to bring any prior knowledge to the cinema, it suffices to simply bring your own personal story. Indeed, in this sacred cinematic space, Bellott forces us to question and search using the same zeal and desperation that characterises Perfidia. In pushing the resources at his disposal to their limit—by deliberately forging a dialectic relationship with his audience—Bellott gives us the tools to make the film our own and, in doing so, arguably gives the film the profundity that so marks it. This is the greatest irony of Bellott's Perfidia: it is presented as the director's most personal film, yet it has transcended his biography to become his most universal. The emotion imparted is deeply entrenched in all human experience—fundamentally, the desire to love and to be loved.