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First Look Review - DAYS OF THE WHALE

days of the whale review
Two young graffiti artists defy a criminal gang when they decide to paint over a threat written on a wall.


Review by Musanna Ahmed

Directed by: Catalina Arroyave

Starring: Laura Tobón, David Escallón, Carlos Fonnegra, Christian Tappan, Julián Giraldo, Natalia Castaño, Margarita Restrepo

days of the whale poster

Colombian filmmaker Catalina Arroyave makes her feature debut with Days of the Whale, a lowkey coming-of-age drama about two young graffiti artists, Simón (David Escallón Orrego) and Cristina (Laura Tobón Ochoa), whose lives are intertwined with love and complicated by the threat of Medellín’s gangs. The coupled vandals run into a bit of trouble when they decide to paint over a gang mural that reads as a threat to all the local graffiti artists.

days of the whale review

I was reminded of The Last Tree when watching this film, for they both are so much about social conditioning and how our environments shape us. Simón and Cristina function in a limited space, working together in a youth centre, choosing what to call home within dislocated family units - he lives with his grandmother, she lives with her father and stepmother - and finding solace in each other’s company on the streets that don’t really want them. There’s also La Selva, an abandoned house squatted by fellow graffiti artists, but it doesn’t afford them the intimacy they desire only within one another’s arms.

days of the whale review

Arroyave’s first feature is a little unwieldy, trying to divide equal time to the different narrative strands - family, romance, the turf war - and it results in a lack of emotional accumulation by the time the finale arrives. It’s hard to identify which aspect of their lives really has the most at stake, so we assume death is ultimately the great inevitability for any character within this gangland backdrop. On the other hand, the film attempts cohesion through the use of metaphorical imagery, particularly the titular whale, a graffiti logo that, through the most basic Moby Dick interpretation, symbolises an endless pursuit for liberty in the dark heart of Medellín.

[ READ MORE: New Release Review - Buñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles ]

While the context and subtext are culturally specific, there’s a universality in Simón and Cristina’s situation that almost feels claustrophobic at times because it’s so real. To compare it to The Last Tree again, the filmmaker records on location with seemingly no directional microphone so that the stifling humidity, the touch of nature, the neighbour’s watch, the shadow of violence - all of it is palpable, especially through the handheld documentary-style shoot that favours close-ups. If it was more of an anthropological study, Days of the Whale would’ve been quite strong, saying a whole lot by just focussing closely on the psyche of its protagonists in a very specific, volatile environment. But the “plottiness”, and its entailment of less interesting supporting characters as well as an element of predictability, lets it down.

days of the whale review

Finally, it must be mentioned that there’s a kick-ass multi-genre soundtrack here that nicely vibes with the graffiti painting sequences in particular. It’s worth seeking out even if you have no interest in seeing the film.

Days of the Whale is available through US Virtual Cinemas from July 24th. A UK/ROI release has yet to be announced.




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