Since his first short, La impresión de una guerra, debuted in 2015 Colombian director Camilo Restrepo quickly drew notice on the festival circuit, following up with 2016’s Cilaos and La bouche in 2017. Now, the imaginative canvas on which Restrepo paints has widened with his feature debut, Los conductos.
A spinning flashlight, a gunshot; a bloody bullet wound; match cut to a red motorcycle at night being filled with gasoline; a crash; a getaway on the bike, and a drug-fuelled hideout in a concrete shelter. Los conductos’ wordless, opening ten minutes are a feverish promise of the next sixty: a pulsing, violent collage of images and feeling, out of which we can try to draw meaning. Los conductos is a narrative film – a deceptively simple narrative at that – but its power comes from the intensity of its visual and aural signs, layered like a dense montage.
After killing the charismatic leader, known only as ‘father’, of the criminal-gang-cum-cult of which he was second in command, Pinky (Luis Felipe Lozano) goes on the run, recounting the years spent with the gang and their philosophy of superiority over society through violence. In his hideout, an skylight casts shadows that resemble the oblique rectangular shapes that characterise the opening sequences of the spaghetti Westerns of Leone and Corbucci. It’s a key visual anchor-point: Restrepo takes to their logical, febrile conclusion the abstract and the magical realist qualities of this imagined American West.
Restrepo, with regular cinematographer Guillaume Mazloum, takes the violence of those films – so amplified as to become detached from reality – their ultra-masculinity; their moments of hallucinatory subjectivity, and expands them into their own world, spinning a kaleidoscopic, disorienting reality. As arresting as Mazloum’s visuals are, it is arguably Los Conductos‘ sound design that brings it to life. Punctuated by the mechanical, alienating sounds of traffic, a clothes factory, a shopping mall, Pinky’s narration comes as a confession from some purgatorial abyss, telling us that he and his fellow cultists saw the world around them as nothing more than ‘matter’ to be bent according to their will.
The gang’s work making counterfeit branded t-shirts roots the world in globalised markets and exploitation; Los Conductos avoids straightforward socio-economic commentary to instead elicit the metaphysical effects of globalisation on individual human experience. Meanwhile, his fetishising of his gun, inscribing ‘this is my life’ on its handle, signifies the twisted masculinity to which he has subscribed. Later, a fable about a father and two brothers who peer into a pothole to see a parallel city has hints of Jean Cocteau’s Orphée; that Los Conductos is a feverish vision of purgatory there can be little doubt.