Film Review: Lapü – CASA Festival 2021

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

Directors: César Alejandro Jaimes and Juan Pablo Polanco

Lapü marks the CASA Festival’s third of four film screenings, celebrating Latinx culture and creativity. With earlier focus on identity, borders and relationships with the USA in particular, Lapü is a change of pace, a film about grief and the ritualisation of death as a community deal with the aftermath of sudden tragedy and the continuing spiritual presence of the departed, evoking reflection on memory and memorialisation.

Following the death of her aunt and the linked suicide of her cousin, Doris tries to feel their presence in the elements and in her dreams. Seeking advice from her grandmother, she attempts to connect to her cousin by removing her body from the ground, while elsewhere in the village, life continues as the Wayuu community come together for a series of rituals to celebrate and honour the dead.

César Alejandro Jaimes and Juan Pablo Polanco’s documentary-drama film is an unstinting view of the rites and almost casual presence of death within this society. Without explanation or much context, Jaimes and Polanco show a series of activities including chopping of trees, the killing of an animal and, in one of the most explicit scenes, the disinterment of a decayed body from which the head and other parts are slowly detached in front of the gathered crowd.

The other half of the film has a more spiritual focus as Doris communes with her cousin who is represented in human form in order to have several direct conversations about their childhood and the impact of exhumation on the living woman. In contrast to the physicality of death, there is a more philosophical and spiritual angle here that adds a different dimension.

Yet, with very little explanation, the film is based around a series of slow rituals lasting several minutes giving an overview of the processes of grief that can feel quite slow moving as the camera lingers. Despite the filmmakers’ attempts to immerse the audience in these practices, without any character insight, guidance or narrative, we are kept outside so its 75-minutes feels both overlong and lacking in sufficient content to sustain its running time.

It’s beautifully shot, however, and its directors bring a cinematographic richness to the film that captures the elements particularly well, showing beautiful skyscapes and wind-blown fabrics in the Wayuu homes. The same quality is attached to the shadowy night shoots, as the family rest in their hammocks, with low artificial light and the brighter colours of their clothing punctuating the atmospheric shading.

Lapü is perhaps anthropologically and socially interested in bringing the long aftermath of death to the screen and creates an emotional space for Doris to explore her desire for reconnection. The documentary style with threaded drama is an interesting approach but the result is a film that is neither one thing or another, and this Colombian village and the meaning of these complex rituals remains remote and unknowable.

Lapü will be screened at the CASA Festival 2021 on 22 September.

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