Sunday is the final day of the UW Mini Indie Film Festival at the Union South Marquee, and the festival is finishing off with a modest pair of screenings at Union South, 1308 W. Dayton St. Both screenings are free and open to the public; visit union.wisc.edu/film for details.
Student Short Series (3 p.m.) — Come see the best in new films from undergraduate and graduate students at the UW, ranging from documentary to narrative features. The films were created either for class assignments, competitions, or simply for the sheer love of moviemaking.
“To Kill A Man” (6 p.m.) — This harrowing and spare Chilean film is like a cinema verite “Death Wish.” Jorge (the outstanding Daniel Candia) is an ordinary family man, who takes long bus rides to and from his job as manager of a private forestry reserve. The contrast between the verdant wildness of his days, and the flickering halogen-bulb glare of his nights, is stark.
Walking home from work one night, he’s accosted by some street toughs who live in the nearby projects. The biggest of the thugs, named Kalule, shakes him down for cash and, just for fun, steals Jorge’s diabetic sugar test. Later that night, Jorge’s teenage son, nicknamed Jorgito, goes out to try and buy it back from Kalule. When Jorge follows to investigate, he finds his son lying shot on the project staircase.
His son recovers, but the prosecutors don’t seem interested in pursuing the case beyond the minimum sentencing, and Kukule gets a prison sentence of a little over a year. Wken Kukule gets out, he starts harassing Jorge and his family, throwing stones through their front window, following Jorge’s wife to work, and, in one sequence so awful because it’s presented so simply, molesting Jorge’s teenage daughter on the street. The fact that this assault happens in broad daylight on a city sidewalk shows how Kukule acts with impunity, sure that he’ll never be punished.
The local police and prosecutors seem stubbornly uninterested in doing more than the minimum (after the assault on his daughter, Jorge is told he has to wait until Monday because the prosecutor is off for the weekend). So Jorge faces a choice — to simply sit and endure Kakule’s assaults, and trust that the slow-moving legal system will turn in his favor, or to take action.
Writer-director Alejandro Fernando Almendras alternates between quick, static shots in which Jorge is sometimes off center, suggesting how he doesn’t quite fit into his own life, with long tracking shots that focus almost relentlessly on him. Candia carries the film in a marvelously controlled performance — aside from one cry of anguish, he seems so placid on the surface that we’re not sure whether he will rise to revenge, or simply sit and take it. Daniel Antivilo as Kalule (nicknamed for a famous boxer from the ’70s) is a menacing presence, less a person than a living embodiment of everything Jorge fears.
In the end, “To Kill a Man” is a simple film, often wordless, that is very complex about the nature of vengeance and the limits of vigilantism. Protecting your family from an outside threat, it turns out, may be easier than not destroying it by your own actions.