Monday, September 28, 2009

Baja la Piel / Under The Skin (Peru, 1996)

An interesting but flawed film from Peru, heavily influenced by Hitchcock, which proudly wearing its influence on its sleeve. Though a German/Spanish/Peruvian production, director Francisco J. Lombardi is a true blue third worlder, having been born in Peru’s most southerly major town Tacna exactly twenty years after the town voted to return to Peru (from Chile) in 1929. (Tacna had become part of Chile in 1880 during The War of the Pacific.) The film itself however takes place today in some unnamed coastal town of Northern Peru, though, in truth, it could be almost anywhere along the coast.
The film opens with a truly typical sight of Peru, that of barefooted street kids dressed in shorts playing a game of soccer amidst the squalor of one the country’s numerous squatted settlements (a slightly more settled one, seeing that the houses are of dirt bricks and not straw mats). The ball gets kicked into a pile of trash and the boy fetching it stumbles upon the head of a dead young man, the fourth victim of some unknown serial killer working in the area who kills and beheads his victims, all youths in their early twenties. The provincial police chief is under pressure from the mayor of the town to do something quick, before the murders can ruin the upcoming regional festival. Into the picture appears Marina, the new pathologist, in whom the police chief promptly goes gaga for. With her help he pinpoints a local archaeologist from the museum as the murderer, but just when everything should be going well, things fall apart. Marina proves herself to have an uncontrollably hot box and promptly dumps the chief to screw around with the mayor’s obnoxious stud son, the police chief accidentally runs over his beloved dog and the archaeologist hangs himself in his jail cell. Suddenly, in the well of his misery, the chief sees a bloody way to solve all of his problems at the same time...
One film source claims that Augusto Cabada, the scriptwriter of Baja la Piel, was inspired by Doytoyevsky’s classic Crime and Punishment, but considering how little guilt the lead character feels in the end, the inspiration is obviously slight — if at all.
Admittedly enough, Bajo la piel is a well directed film with excellent cinematography with the type of convoluted script featuring all the unexpected twist and turns one expects in a film from a film-making Hitchcock fan such as Brian de Palma. The ending is especially a treat, the black humor hitting nicely below the belt. But something just ain’t right. Bingen Mendizabal’s musical score is terrible, washing loudly over any scene of importance in an overly emphatic wave that often destroys the very mood it should be accentuating. None of the characters are particularly likable, the police chief being a premature ejaculating brown noser for most of the film and Marina being little more than a moody, good-looking bitch. And Lombardi’s use of unrealistic Incan ruins can only be forgiven when viewed as being some sort of allusion to Hitchcock’s often equally unreal set pieces, like his Mount Rushmore sequence in North by Northwest (1959/trailer). Still, one has to considerably bend one’s view of reality to accept the concept that any Incan ruins in Peru would be empty enough for a couple to screw on a sacrificial alter, no matter how quickly the guy shoots his load. That said, one should probably nonetheless give this film some slack. Peru is not exactly the film making capital of the world — or third world, for that matter — and all in all, flawed or not, Baja la piel still has more good features than most Hollywood slop. Or than manyDe Palma films, to tell the truth. It's nihilism, for example, is truly exemplary.

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