Land and Shade

Land and Shade film poster

Land and Shade poster

With its rather bare setting mostly focusing on 4 family members gathered in a house surrounded by sugar cane plantations, Land and Shade could easily be just a play and shouldn’t be recommended to anybody suffering from claustrophobia.  The fact that, despite its assumed minimalism, César Augusto Acevedo’s movie has garnered quite a few movie awards – including Cannes’ Critics Week and AFI Fest prizes – hints that you might be in the presence of a strong, intriguing work, which it certainly is.

Watching the first sequence instantly gives you an idea of what’s coming, whether it’s in terms of story or filmmaking style. The movie opens with a steady shot showing an old man (Alfonso – Haimer Leal) walking slowly toward us on a deserted dirt road, in the middle of a sugar cane plantation. At some point, a truck drives by and fills out the screen with dust. This is enough to let us know we are watching a naturalistic work where poverty, desolation and agriculture seem all to be connected to a nefarious industrialization symbolized by this truck polluting our screen.

The man then arrives at a house closely surrounded by sugar cane fields. Those fields are so close that they almost touch some of the windows and when adjacent plantations are set on fire, the house seems to disappear under ashes that fall like snow.  As you guessed it, this is an asphyxiating environment also symbolized by what’s happening to the Alfonso’s son – he is dying from what seems to be a lung disease caused by ashes and dust. It clearly looks like the young man’s days are counted, his wife, son and mother and father attending him.

Not much else is happening in Land and Shade and don’t expect any twist. Mr. Acevedo focuses on describing the end of an era through these characters coping with the upcoming death of one their own. This death also represents what’s awaiting the house. We learn that both the home and land belong to Alfonso and that he had left his family years ago because he couldn’t stomach witnessing the demise of his rural world.

The movie offers a pessimistic vision of the world, showing how industrialization is corrupting both nature and humans. While the effect on nature and old traditions is emphasized throughout the picture mostly through metaphors, we also witness how labor is treated by the companies employing them. Not only did Alfonso’s son get sick because of his job but we also see how other workers get cheated of their pay despite working in hard conditions.

To create his allegories and focuses on the characters’ struggles, Mr. Acevedo mostly uses beautiful, sad steady shots while the pace is resolutely slow, almost agonizing. Every element in this restrict setting are used as symbols. The tree in front of the house seems to embody family ties while both the house and Alfonso’s wife are vestiges of the old world. Alfonso represents the ineluctable reality of a doomed situation while his son he’s the victim of industrialization and to an extent, an allegory for nature. As to the daughter and grandson, they are a future generation who will be part of a modern, industrialized era.

A haunting, sad but gorgeous work, Land and Shade succeeds at delivering its pessimistic message, which is even more impressive as it mostly relies on strong imagery rather than on wordy dialogues or screenwriting artifices.

Director: César Augusto Acevedo – Actors: Haimer Leal, Edison Raigosa – Running Time: 1:37 – Year: 2015 – Country: Colombia
Click here to watch the Land and Shade trailer
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Fred Thom

Fred Thom

Editor-in-Chief/Founder/Film Critic at Plume Noire
The founder and editor-in-chief of Plume Noire, Fred Thom covers film festivals and writes movie reviews. He was born in Marseilles, France and is now living in Los Angeles, California.
Fred Thom

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