The prodigal father returns in Land and Shade, an austere family drama that suggests you can always go home again — it just might not be the best idea.
César Augusto Acevedo’s Cannes prizewinner (Caméra d’Or, for best first film) is set in rural Colombia during the sugarcane harvest. The reaping involves burning the crop, which rains down blue-gray ash. Alfonso, the sixty- or seventysomething in question, spends his mornings sweeping it away with a broom the way you would any other kind of unwelcome dirt — but if it isn’t fit to gather on his estranged family’s doorstep, what might it be doing to their insides?
The answer is in the bedroom, where Alfonso’s adult son rests with the shutters drawn 24 hours a day, dying but not admitting it to his wife, son, or himself. His plight is used as fuel in his non-union colleagues’ ongoing labor dispute, with his wife lamenting that theirs is “the only farm in the world where you work and work and get nothing”; the would-be patriarch has been gone so long that all this sugarcane is new to him, but these workers’ treatment is likely older than he is.
There are moments of quiet reprieve amid the purgatorial ash, like the returned teaching his grandson different birdsongs or shielding his ice cream cone as a dust-spewing truck rumbles by. You might not want to live here, but the imagery makes for a nice postcard.
Land and Shade
Directed by César Augusto Acevedo
Opens June 17, Village East Cinema