Film of the week: Porfirio by Alejandro Landes (Selected at the Toronto Film Festival)
Porfirio is confined to a wheelchair after the police shot him in the back, but show little willingness to compensate him for the ruins that remain from his former life.
Welcome to the true story of the Air Pirate, told from the perspective of the man himself. Porfirio Ramirez Aldana made headlines in 2005 for trying to hijack a plane to Bogotá. What made those headlines more sensational was the fact that he did so while paralyzed from the waist down. But, once upon a time, Aldana had been king of his castle: a wealthy farmer and cattle rancher, he was a respected figure in his Colombian village until a bullet lodged itself in his spine and left him disabled.
Little of this information can be gleaned from Alejandro Landes’ unusually spare narrative. Though Landes hints at Porfirio’s backstory, he is more concerned with the course on which that tragedy has set him. The director offers a deliberate study of a once-prominent man struggling to maintain his dignity.
Saddled with a loser son, Porfirio is forced to rent out his cell phone to make a living, but he still finds happiness when locked in a carnal embrace with his next-door neighbour. Soon enough, though, his past comes rushing through the door, along with a travelling salesman who acts as a catalyst for the rest of the story. We learn that Porfirio wasn’t wounded by some random stray bullet: the shots were fired by police, yet the state has consistently refused to compensate him. Desperate measures lead to the creation of a modern Colombian legend.
Director of photography Thimios Bakatakis looks Porfirio right in the eye, working from a low angle to create a series of fixed frames that provide a realistic glimpse into his confined life. And just as we’ve grown accustomed to this mesmerizing imagery that seems capable of going on forever, Porfirio changes everything by taking matters into his own two hands — the only functional limbs he has left.
Alejandro Landes was born in São Paulo, Brazil. He studied literature, economics and architecture at Brown University, and went on to write for the Miami Herald and the television series Oppenheimer Presenta. He wrote, directed and produced the documentary feature Cocalero (07). Porfirio (11) is his second feature.