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Review "Anhell69": Heartbreaking and powerful portrait of a youth without a future

By Sandra M Ríos U
Twitter: @sandritamrios

I didn't ask to be born. Nobody ever asked me. I was thrown into the world.

Theo Montoya's first feature film is currently in theaters after receiving very favorable comments at the 2022 Venice Film Festival. It's a demanding, transgressive, and unique film set in a queer universe.

In "Anhell69," Medellin becomes a gothic city where vampires roam a soulless and violent territory, feeding on lost young souls.

During the press conference for "Los reyes del mundo" in San Sebastian, I was struck by a journalist's question about the new Colombian filmmakers' tendency to continue depicting a violent Medellin with lost youth, despite signing a peace agreement with the FARC guerrilla seven years ago. Director Laura Mora responded aptly, stating that she belongs to a generation that unfortunately hasn't experienced living in peace, and thus her films reflect that reality. I mentioned this in the review.

Theo Montoya is from the same generation that can't remain indifferent to what they have experienced. They are part of a traumatized youth, victims of a violent country that, despite the mentioned agreement, continues to suffer from armed groups, drug trafficking, corruption, inequality, and a lack of opportunities.

In this film, which is both a documentary and fiction, Montoya takes on the role of an omniscient narrator, a spirit that roams the streets and provides context for who he is: a son of a single mother who never knew his father, excommunicated from the church for masturbating, a son who has faced violence head-on and is saturated with it.

Cinema has been an escape for this author: "I fell in love with cinema because it was the only place where I could cry." Therefore, as this art has been a part of his existence, he links his story to the desire to make a film set in a dystopian Medellin, where the dead coexist with the living on the same earthly plane and establish all kinds of relationships, including sexual ones. However, this production was frustrated by the death of the chosen protagonist, Camilo Najar, a trans youth who fascinated him and was the protagonist of his short film "Hijo de Sodoma."

Showing his love for cinema, Montoya not only creates a kind of film within the film but also references authors who have influenced him. As a result, the aesthetic is recognizable in directors like Apichatpong Weerasethakul (with "Cemetery of Splendour" and "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives"), Carlos Mayolo ("Pura sangre"), and, of course, Víctor Gaviria (who also appears as a character in the film).

In "Anhell69," Theo gathers the casting process for the original idea of the first film (taking the title from the protagonist's Instagram username). He shows a group of friends passing in front of the camera, revealing their lives filled with excesses: sex, drugs, parties, illness, and discrimination. They also express their fears, frustrations, and their vision of the future, in a display of honesty and energy with which the director pays tribute to his friends, both alive and (unfortunately, many) dead, to the anonymous and marginalized, and thus completes the truncated film that couldn't be made.

That apocalyptic and delirious Medellin, nocturnal and punk, fades away in the face of a youth living intensely in the present, as it is the only thing they can be certain of. They are a generation deprived of all expectations, burdened by a past they should not have lived through in that way and a future that seems indistinguishable from the present.

Amidst the grotesque, provocative, hallucinatory, and depressing images in the film, with marginality as the main protagonist, and in the texts dripping with truth, depression, and some resentment, there's an intentional provocative and rebellious spirit that exposes a brutal reality: there is a group of our youth living without any hope of a better future, existing in a vacant present. As a society and a country, this can only fill us with deep shame and sadness.

Theo Montoya's debut is superb and heart-wrenching.

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