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The Strategy of the Snail (1993) follows tenants of an aging Bogota mansion who are about to be kicked out by the owner. After a violent confrontation with armed forces, their lawyer realizes their best weapon is time and they begin to stall while they build a pulley system that allows them to transfer all the items in the house to a new location by the time the eviction comes.
The Rise of Guerrilla Groups & The End of the National Front
The National Front was praised for ending partisan fights between the Conservative and Liberal parties, but they were also directly responsible for the rise of guerrilla warfare. By outlawing other parties, many leftists believed they had to work outside the government. The urban poor abstained from voting in alarming numbers and guerrilla groups started expanding their influence among unions. groups which dominated these unions were ELN and FARC. ELN was formed in the 1960s and made up of mostly students who had been inspired by the Cuban Revolution while FARC was a rural-based agrarian movement that at its height numbered 15-20,000 fighters.
By the 1970s, their power overwhelmed the Colombian government and the National Front was dissolved. The late 70s were marked by an increase in extrajudicial killings from President Turbay, but the 1980s looked different.
The incoming Betancur administration wanted to end the unnecessary state violence and began peace talks with guerrilla groups. Unfortunately, these hopes were dashed in 1985 when an urban guerrilla group, M-19, stormed the Palacio de Justicia in Bogota. They intended to hold a show trial against President Betancur and his Defense Minister for violating the peace agreement. Chief Justice Alfonso Reyes tried to contact the president in order to arrange a ceasefire, but Betancur believed it was best to leave it to the military. Many believed that M-19 was supported by Pablo Escobar with his former hitman saying they provided $2 million to the group in order for them to destroy his criminal records once there but this has not been confirmed. The 30 guerrillas took 300 hostages and by the end of the siege, 100 people had been killed and 11 people disappeared in the ensuing shootout with the military. Even with this burst of violence, M-19 and FARC were able to form their own respective political parties.
The Injustice of Justice
The Strategy of the Snail comes off the back of this monumental and violent event and examines the corruption and futility of leftist movements. In one instant in the film, one of the tenants details that the reasons the poor cannot get what they want are because of the injustice of justice and the lack of strategy from the tenants. Because it’s laid out in the film so simply and yet so elegantly, I think my critiques will stick to those two areas. What does the injustice of justice look like to director Sergio Cabrera? This film is probably one of Colombia’s most celebrated and was based on a real event. Cabrera had read in a newspaper about the removal of tenants from a house whose legal procedure had taken such a long time that by the time the authorities had to intervene, they realized that the house no longer existed. Justice is carried out slowly or not at all in Cabrera’s film with the opposition’s lawyers being presented as having more interest in sex than with peace. When Romero, the student lawyer representing the tenants, tries to get a meeting with a legal counselor, he has to lie and tell him a beautiful woman is waiting to meet him in a restaurant.
Though, it’s the owner’s lawyer, Mosquera, who seems to be the most sex-obsessed. When he answers calls from clients, the camera pans to show that he is simultaneously looking at a porno magazine. Later, in a bid to stall for more time, the tenants send their prostitute neighbor to distract him. It’s clear these people are motivated more by their animal urges than their conscience. The owner on the other hand seems entirely motivated by money. His house is quite literally an embarrassment of riches. He is surrounded by technology that does not seem necessary or cost-effective. It just seems like another way to one-up the poor, who he believes belong in the trash. In order to intimidate Romero, he pays men to beat him up and leave him in a trash heap outside of the city. For the people who decide what justice is, money is to be thrown away.
The Strategy of the Tenants
Sergio Cabrera is a tried and true leftist. He had spent time in a guerrilla group but also had critiques about the lack of creativity of these groups. Cabrera believes that while the method used in the film can only be used successfully in a movie, he believes it could be a blueprint for real leftists in the country. Cabrera said, “the film was an attempt to show that it is worth it to have new and more creative solutions, and to promote the concept of the individual solution over the collective one.” Though the strategy is purely cinematic, their realizations ring true. They cannot win against the military in an armed struggle. They can use their only weapon: time. Stalling becomes an empowering feat for these tenants and one that brings them together.
Maybe by taking advantage of the Colombian government’s ineptitude and inaction, more people can free themselves. Cabrera also shows how gender expression can be a part of this resistance. Gabriel is a resident of the apartment who also cross-dresses as a prostitute named Gabriela. As Gabriela, he seduces Mosquera, giving the residents more time to move, and then triumphantly reveals his identity in front of Mosquera and the crowd. Gabriel’s versatile gender expression is a tool that should be celebrated and appreciated. These methods show working-class people everywhere that with a little ingenuity, anything can happen.