SXSW Review: ‘Tormentero’ a Bold Vision of Horror and Insanity

One of the main attractors to SXSW is the diversity. It comes as a result of the creative notion of making something that surpasses language and cultural barriers, resulting in an innate magic that transcends movies as a whole, and becomes something grander than all of us and our bullshit. One of the best examples of this came from a little-known Latin American collaboration, premiering at the festival this year.

Tormentero (or storm maker) belongs on a different plane. Sitting squarely amongst the strange and dreamy films of Lynch and Gilliam, Tormentero focuses less on where the plot is headed, and more on where it isn’t. Rather than sum it up directly, it’s important to focus on the dreamscape and what it symbolizes. Don Rome is a retired fisherman who found a crude oil slick while he was out with his crew one day. That discovery changed the scape of the town, voiding the fisherman’s skills as the oil companies moved in to claim the territory. Don Rome, now lonely and old, slowly begins to go mad as he breathes in and out of consciousness.

If you didn’t know any better, there’s certain scenes that you would mistake for something straight out of Lost Highway. As Don Rome goes through the motions, we see him meet with those who profited from his accidentally nefarious discovery. He does his best to keep face, not understanding their pure joy at his expense. The scene is creepily still as cartel-like oil managers take in the man who made their millions, smiling and holding their drinks up in “salud,” eventually using shadows as a mask for Don Rome’s lack of understanding.

He folds in and out of himself. At times watching his slovenly-self sleep through being hammered, walking slowly through the house of his sleeping self, sporting a newly ironed shirt and less mussed up hair. He loses track of his children, both in terms of location and whether they exist. There’s a disconnect in time that runs rampant throughout the film, speaking clearly to Don Rome’s mental state. At times he is his children, walking idly through his world without regard to anything but that moment. At times he is his (maybe) brother, lying in bed while everyone waits for him to die. He is alone, but he is never alone, and his life has brought him to this point of no return.

Rome’s children are made up of twins Chacho & Ariel, and Yolanda. Chacho and Ariel only appear onscreen once together, and even then Chacho is escaping quietly into the darkness down the hall, constantly working like the man from another place to remain elusive, yet always in sight if you’re looking close enough. Yolanda is repetitive, acting out a memory and taking great care of her “father” from a distance, only showing herself when it’s absolutely necessary. She acts as the wife and the daughter in this regard, blurring the lines for both the audience and Rome. It is Ariel that accounts for the most time with Rome, working as both Rome’s son and a mirror to his past. Ariel can’t stop screwing with an estuary, driving Rome crazy and messing with the natural order of things in the meantime.

There is a particularly jarring scene in which Chacho takes a representation of nature, and effectively rapes her as his brother Ariel and many other men watch. Again, it plays into a Lynchian symbolism with nature being perfectly content to lie quietly on the beach, when suddenly man finds the need to ravage what was once perfectly content on its own. It speaks to Don Romes earlier actions, and the need to run away from his mistakes as the beauty fades from the once young and virial ocean.

Many of the film goers at the premiere lost track of the majesty presented to them, instead focusing on the mention of director Rubén Imaz’s revelation that he had used both The Tempest and the graves of twins he saw in a small town in Latin America as inspiration for his film. While there was a magical element present, Don Rome wasn’t capable of producing magic, instead relying on what was abound to feed into his own sensibilities. The film is visceral, hard to digest, and completely worth the time. One of the best parts of its road to fruition is the fact that Colombia, Dominican Republic, Mexico all collaborated on location and filming of the picture, adding an additional element to the importance of diversity. Without films like this, there is no SXSW.

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