As Lima Film Festival’s 20th edition kicks into high gear this week, it’s been refreshing to see that most of the Peruvian films both in and out of competition are all pretty solid; it’s a sign that local cinema is steadily improving. For proof, you need look no further than La Luz en el Cerro (The Light On The Hill), an old-fashioned thriller, the likes of which Peru very rarely sees; it’s a promising first feature from director Ricardo Velarde.
Jeff (Manuel Gold) and Chino (Emilram Cossio) are two young coroners working the morgue at a remote town in the Andes, with nothing much to do other than smoke and blast some extreme metal on the radio. Their boring routine is cut short when the corpse of a local farmer is dropped onto their lap. Further investigation leads them to a tapado, a local urban legend about buried Inca gold, which pretty soon everyone is trying to get their hands on, from a crazy old man wandering around with a metal detector, to a corrupt landowner and his femme fatale girlfriend.
Velarde does a great job in subverting expectations; this might feel at first like a CSI-style murder mystery, but the crime is actually secondary to a story about how greed and envy can bring out the worst in people, even our two supposed “heroes”, who waste no time in dropping the nice guy act and joining the dark side. The only exception is Padilla, a hardass cop who gets caught up in the whole mess, the one decent person trying to do the right thing; veteran actor Ramón García is a standout, playing with equal parts intensity and humanity.
Shot on celluloid, an increasingly rare occurrence for local films now that everyone has switched to digital, the format is quickly apparent and gives the movie an entirely different, darker feel. This isolated backwater becomes ominous and creepy, which is fitting once everyone starts revealing secrets. Velarde’s old school sensibilities serve him well, leading to an unpredictable, tense climax which holds your attention.
Heavily indebted to local folklore and urban legends, La Luz en el Cerro is a solid and well-made genre exercise with a clear Peruvian flavor, a morality play about how things can go wrong once people give in to their worst instincts and self-interest. It will be headed to the Montreal Film Festival later this month, so hopefully more people get to see it; a local release date is still pending.
The Lima Film Festival runs from 5-13 August.