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This week I’ll be focusing on Colombia! Loosely, my theme is based around magical realism and later the rise of narcotrafficking. Overall, this has been a really interesting week and I think everyone will especially like the second movie of the week!
La Langosta Azul (1954) tells the story of a US secret agent known as “El Gringo” who goes to Colombia to investigate the appearance of a radioactive blue lobster, Unfortunately when he gets to the hotel, a cat steals the lobster and leads him on an adventure through the village.
In the 1940s, Colombia saw the rise of a political superstar with Jorge Eliécer Gaitán. Gaitán was a lawyer from a wealthy Bogota family who used his skills to fight against the United Fruit Company in 1929 and ran on the Liberal ticket for president unsuccessfully in 1946. He seemed to be an extremely viable candidate for the 1950 election but he unfortunately never lived long enough to try. He was assassinated in 1948 and this event set off the Bogotazo riots which left parts of the city smoldering and barren. The conservative government headed by Mariano Ospina Perez did absolutely nothing to quell the complaints of the public and so a ten-year civil war known as “La Violencia” began.
In this period, at least 2,000 people were killed with most of them being poor, young males and a lot of this was in rural areas. Though, it is important to note that there had been violence in rural Colombia before Gaitán’s assassination since Gaitán’s death was felt much more by the urban population. His death showed both of these groups that the government was not able to respond to their needs.
During this period, the Conservative party ruled, General Rojas led a coup and formed the last government during this civil war. Initially, Rojas received support from the Liberal party and Ospina supporters as he pacified the llanos region. However, he soon began censoring the press and trying to gain more power by forming his own union and outlawing political parties. By 1957, the economic crisis became untenable and he resigned. The Conservative party and the Liberal party decided to form the National Front. They agreed that every four years they would alternate which party would lead the government in a bid to pacify the population. The US’s presence in Colombia grew from there and left-wing militia groups like the ELN would rise up in the following decade. La Langosta Azul gives a portrait of rural life right in the middle of this civil war.
Magical Realism & Gabriel Garcia Marquez
This film is not just important for Colombia because it is the first of its kind to be filmed in the country, but also because it was co-written and directed by none other than Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Though it is not common knowledge, Garcia Marquez initially had dreams of becoming a director. Before he became a celebrated writer, he was a film critic for El Heraldo in Barranquilla and often wrote about his love for surrealism and neorealism. While these movements have had a great effect on his work, he is often credited for popularizing the “Magical Realism” genre which is indigenous to Latin America. This genre is characterized by a world grounded in reality but with some fantastical elements to the story. Though this short film was made at the beginning of Garcia Marquez’s career, there are still distinct elements of the genre in the work. Before the Gringo enters the village, it is just a normal place. It resembles all the other rural villages of the country. The appearance of the radioactive lobster turns the village upside down. At one point, the Gringo shows up to an African religious ritual dance around a chalk painting of a lobster in order to summon it. The use of African traditional religions has been a part of magical realism since The Kingdom of this World by Alejo Carpentier in 1949. These rituals come to light once the lobster is discovered and shows the quirks and unique culture that has already existed in rural Colombia.
The appearance of a radioactive lobster however is not accidental. In the film, it is clarified that the lobster is radioactive due to atomic testing in the Caribbean. The 1950s was the beginning of a close US relationship with many Latin American nations and Colombia was not exempt from this as the US had been vocal supporters of former president Ospina. The Gringo is one in a series of Americans inserting themselves in issues that are not theirs and providing nothing for the locals. Many of the locals work hard to get compensation for finding the lobster but they are unsuccessful. One resident goes out fishing and gets a bag full of lobsters in the hopes that one of them will get him money from the Gringo but it’s futile. It’s clear American occupation has no positive effects. Though, the film shows that keeping the lobster or making money from it is not the solution. In the end, a young boy ties the lobster to a kite, and after a fight with the Gringo, he loses control of the kite, and the lobster lands in the middle of the ocean. US imperialism comes to an end not when we rob them of their tools for control, but destroy the tools for control entirely.