The title of this film refers to the idea of a ‘contactee’ – a person who acts as the link between a local community and alien forces. The narrative is set in Peru, in the capital Lima and along the coast. This is an area subject to earthquakes and ‘big waves’ off the coast. It is also the centre of Andean culture and the mythologies of the Incas. But this is the 21st century and the central character is Aldo, a former teacher of theology, now in his fifties, who seems to be withdrawing from the world and its troubles. He makes money selling his old books and acting as a guide to the ancient Inca sites around the city. He’s also still a landlord, attempting to collect rent from his lodgers – but the neighbouring houses are being demolished and the future for the house looks grim. His mother is in a home but whatever ails her is not clear. In fact Aldo’s background is presented to us in fragmented ways. Eventually we will learn that in his younger days he acted as a spiritual leader promising his followers access to another world through rituals which open ‘portals’.
Aldo’s daily routine of taking his surfboard for a morning dip, visiting the market and his mother and acting as a guide is disturbed by the appearance of a young man who claims to recognise Aldo from his days as a preacher and wants to know more. His promptings both annoy Aldo but also stir up his vanity. Who is this young man (named ‘Gabriel’) and what does he want? This is the enigma in the narrative and hints at a genre structure, possibly a thriller of some kind? Aldo is remembered by some of his followers but not all, some still remember their devotion, others feel he let them down.
The ¡Viva! screening includes a recording of an introduction by Dr Rebecca Jarman of the University of Leeds (available via ‘HOMEscreen‘). She tells us that the filmmakers, director Marité Ugas and producer Mariana Rondón, have worked together for many years. They co-wrote this film and they have alternated producer and director roles. The two women trained at the International Film School in Cuba, an important institution in developing Latin American cinemas. They founded Sudaca Films in Venezuela in the early 1990s and have developed links with productions in Peru and other Latin American countries as well as accessing international film festival and regional funding schemes. They are perhaps best known for their 2013 film Pelo Malo (Bad Hair) which won many prizes and was widely distributed worldwide, including in the UK. Dr Jarman points out that Aldo finds himself marginalised, drifting on the edges of what appears to be a revival of local cults associated with UFO sightings. She suggests that this could be linked to the rise of populist leaders in Latin America and that there is a possible metaphor here in which the de-stabilising of Aldo’s life is linked to a more widespread sense of a destabilising of Latin American societies and indeed global peace and security. She points specifically to the ways in which leaders like Bolsonaro and Trump have worked with evangelical Christian groups. I’m not sure, however, about her comments comparing ‘characters in crisis’ in other films such as Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake (UK 2016). She suggests that unlike Daniel Blake and similar characters who are “lionised”, Aldo is an unsympathetic figure but more ‘human’ and therefore accessible for audiences. I can see the arguments she makes but the films aren’t comparable for me, having different genre elements. Loach’s film is a realist melodrama, Contactado is a more expressionistic thriller/mystery and there is no direct reference to the political situation in Peru (which has been turbulent for much of the last twenty years).
Ugas and Rondón have worked with a small crew on several films and have often used the same actors. The creative team on this film includes several women, Peruvian cinematographer Micaela Cajahuaringa also trained in Cuba and she has worked on other Sudaca productions. The film’s visual style is quite fluid, often hand-held and makes good use of the distinctive landscape in CinemaScope compositions. It is matched by the music of Pauchi Sasaki. The performances are strong with Baldomero Cáceres as Aldo and Miguel Dávalos. Overall this is an intriguing mix of a character study in set against an unsettling background of religious beliefs, traditional mythologies and the rise of cults. There are two further screenings of Contactado on Sunday 27 March and Wednesday April 6th.