The fourth feature from director Alejandro Fernández Almendras, To Kill a Man (2014) opens with a wide shot of a dense forest, the trees cut by light forcing its way through the canopy. We see a man in the right of the frame walking slowly yet purposefully through the foliage and then disappear from view as Pablo Vergara’s complementary score reaches its crescendo. This startlingly beautiful yet ominous scene sets the tone of To Kill a Man perfectly, as what unravels over the next 83 minutes is a thriller of graceful simplicity. Diabetic Jorge (Daniel Candia), works at the Santa Julia Centre for Forest Research, and lives with his wife Marta (Alejandra Yanez) and teenage son and daughter.
Heading home on the day of his son Jorgito’s (Ariel Mateluna) birthday, Jorge is stopped by a gang of local thugs lead by the imposing Kalule (Daniel Antivilo), who steal his insulin and money before sending him, tail between legs, on his way. Resigned and apparently powerless to retrieve his medication, Jorge and his family enjoy muted celebrations on his belated arrival at the house. Later that night Jorgito calls on Kalule in loyalty to his father, but upon discovering this Jorge follows behind, only to find that Jorgito has been shot by Kalule – who shows no remorse in blatantly inflicting his own bullet wound in order to claim self-defence against the boy. Both are hospitalised and recover, with Kalule serving eighteen months in jail for his part and Marta and Jorge divorcing in the meantime.
That the time between the incident and Kalule’s release is barely indicated is demonstrable of a narrative efficiency in To Kill a Man that proves to be one of the film’s key strengths. It’s established that Jorge’s tormentor continues to harass his family; bulling Jorgito and abusing his sister, and each iteration of a scene in which the authorities prove their ineffectuality – though showing Jorge to have a remarkably passive respect for due process – creates tension through repetition, giving the sense that eventually, something will have to give. In a remarkably fluid, carefully composed series of long takes, we see Jorge exact his night-time plan for revenge, coaxing his prey from a balcony with cunning all the more effective for being contrary to his usual non-confrontational approach. What unfolds is something akin to the murder of Gromek in 1966’s Torn Curtain, where ending someone’s life is shown to be a greater labour than usually depicted.
The difference for Jorge is not the killing itself however, but rather disposing of the body. A temporary solution gives way to something more dramatic, as Jorge is seen enacting a daylight corpse drag across a seemingly deserted coastal forest – made all the more tense for the conflict in this man’s character – we assume this is unknown territory for him, and yet the openness of the setting suggests a confidence in him altogether unnerving. In Jorge, Almendras and Candia have created a character tragically familiar – an everyman out of his depth pushed further and further towards desperation. In its non-judgemental approach and the quiet confidence of its astonishing noirish aesthetics, To Kill a Man emerges as both a profoundly humanistic, and utterly cinematic achievement.
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