Thursday, September 17, 2009

La Soga

La Soga is the story of Luisito (Manny Perez, who also wrote the script), who works with his cousin Tavo (Hemky Madera) as hitmen for The General (Juan Fernández), who runs the police. The General gives the two lists of criminals to hunt down and kill, which gives him something to trade with the U.S. government. But the personal toll on Luisitio is high, and comes into focus even more when his childhood friend Jenny (Denise Quiñones) re-appears to help her mother settle in just down the road.

Luisito's past is told through interspersed flashbacks, where it is revealed he came to work for The General after the death of his father at the hands of Rafa, a drug dealer who has since fled to the U.S. The General takes the young Luisito under his wing, with the ultimate promise of revenge, which the now grown up Luisito still hasn't been able to exact. As Luisito grows closer to Jenny and separately learns more about how the system works, he reaches a point where his emotions take over and he has to make a decision that will affect everything.

La Soga has a compelling story and compelling characters. It is visually vibrant, remarkably so given the limited budget director Josh Cook faced. Manny Perez brings a lot of emotion to Luisito, from the tender moments when he reconnects with his childhood love, to the extremely violent times when he is carrying out his tasks. Of the now three films I've seen at the festival involving hitmen of some sort either dealing with their tragic pasts or exacting a measure of revenge, this is probably the best and most resonant.

Director Josh Crook and star and screenwriter Manny Perez, and actor Juan Fernández were in attendance and did a Q&A after the film:

  • This is Josh Crook's first solo directing effort; he normally partners with his brother Jeff.
  • La Soga means "the rope", which is a central metaphor in the film. It is also a symbol of how he plays with the criminals, he ties them up and he lets them go and brings them back in again. Used in every other scene, like the pig is tied up in the backyard, and Luisito is tied to the General. In Spanish, it is also suggestive of a noose.
  • The film is based on a some government hitmen that actually existed in the Dominican Republic.
  • Crook and Perez met on the set of a movie a few years ago (likely Rockaway), and there was a lot of downtime. And they talked about the films they admired like City of God and Amores perros.
  • Manny is from the Dominican Republic and told Crook stories about the characters and the world, and Crook read the script that night and they went full bore on it for the last two or so years.
  • They hope to show it in the Dominican Republic. It's the first movie to make it off the island, and they had a lot of support from the country, and everyone is proud of it.
  • Crook couldn't really say what the budget was, but it was low. It's not physically possible to do this movie at this level with the budget they had without the contributions of everyone and the passion they had for the project.
  • The entire film was shot in Perez's hometown and it wouldn't have been possible without the support of the community. All the extras are from his hometown.
  • Crook and Perez went to the country a month before shooting and went to the capital for casting, then Santiago, and then his hometown, and his mother's neighbour was the kid who would play Luisito (Fantino Fernandez), and he talked to Perez, said he heard Perez was looking for actors, and that he should stop because he's his man. Perez described him as a natual, raw, beautiful actor that worked hard; if his call was at 6 in the morning, he was there at 5.
  • Some of the songs were performed by some of the actors in the movie; the rest were all the best Dominican bands; the score was done by Evan Wilson, and he wrestled for 6 months looking for the right sounds.
  • What happens in the movie with the government corruption, the violence, how people live. that's most of the world lives; they've shown the film to all sort of nationalities, and many in Latin America, Africa, and Asia, say that's how they live too.
  • They tried to be true to Dominican Republic in details, but is more universal than that.
  • Crook described Perez as the soul of the movie, writing it growing out of his experiences and emotions, when everyone else jumped on, that's what they followed; but it was one collective brain, a collaborative effort.
  • Crook said that in spite of the fact it is an extreme world, very violent, the themes are universal, the nostalgia for ourselves before the world corrupts us, and trying to think back to who we are really before the world gets a hold of us; that we need to think outside of boring middle-class life we live in and see, describe stories of other people.
  • Perez said that he wrote because he saw things happen to his friends, heard other stories, so he wanted to write a story not because he's mad, but a story that is different; wanted to do something that means something to them, that represents something, so if
    tomorrow he passes away, he's left this behind, that this is something we've accomplished.
  • Perez lived in the country to age 11, and his father killed pigs for the 11 of them in his family to eat, so they all know how to kill a pig. He killed his first when he was 8. He came to US when he was young, went back to visit his relatives, saw they had a little pig and he treated it as a pet, but on last day he hears what sounds like a baby crying, rushes out, sees his uncle killing pig for his goodbye feast, ever since hasn't eaten pork.

Spoilers below:

  • In the final scene, Luisito doesn't smile. Perez said that for Luisito's whole life, he's been chasing down these deportees and killing them, and now he's been shipped from his home to a world where the deportees and their families live, he has a better life, but in a sad, touching was because he could get killed at any time by relatives of those he's killed, so they leave it up in the air if he's happy or sad.
  • Juan Fernandez said that the speech that the General gives to the young Luisito, moved him to tears, and it answers questions of nationalistic ideal but then becomes corrupted by money and greed. He also gave a shout out to production designer Jaime Whitlock.
  • Fernandez also said that for him last scene when two children are playing and then turns to Luisito and Jenny as adults, shows the salvation of our spirit is that we live in a place of love.


My experiences at the Toronto International Film Festival. Note this blog is not affiliated with the Toronto International Film Festival Group or the festival itself.
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