Review by Sean Boelman
The past decades have seen a surge in the quality of Latin American genre cinema, and the Chilean thriller A Place Called Dignity is the latest in a line of impressive outings. Playing out almost like a Latino take on a Yorgos Lanthimos film, sharp dialogue and unique character work allows this to be quite the unique movie.
The film follows a young boy who receives a scholarship to attend a mysterious and secluded private school, where he soon discovers the institution’s unorthodox and dangerous practices. It’s definitely a story we have seen before — a neophyte is inducted into a shadowy organization whose ways are outdated and everything comes crumbling down — but Matías Rojas Valencia’s style is what allows it to stand out.
Valencia’s movie manages to feel both entirely compelling and somewhat overstuffed. There are a few subplots going on in the film in addition to the main storyline, and while they are all interesting, they feel too underdeveloped to make much of a difference. This time would have been much better utilized developing the main story deeper.
The character development in the movie is certainly a bit on the typical side, but Valencia does a good job of making the protagonist compelling. The antagonists are definitely very exaggerated, but their over-the-top nature does a great job of creating a very menacing feeling over the course of the film.
Something that is frustrating about the movie is that it doesn’t have much to say that is particularly unique. The film covers the same themes of assimilation and individuality that so many other movies like this have. Even the more culturally specific aspects of the film feel somewhat underwhelming.
In terms of the cast, there really aren’t any standouts, but they function well as a cohesive unit. The dialogue of the movie is purposefully deadpan, and so it makes sense that a lot of the performances would be on the colder side, except of course the protagonist, who serves as the audience’s only real point of entry into the story.
There are some really interesting things happening in Valencia’s style that allow this film to be as memorable as it is. In some of the more comedic scenes, there is a particular visual vocabulary which creates the right feeling of awkward humor. And the compositions throughout the entire movie are effectively sterile, building the tone well.
A Place Called Dignity is definitely a unique specimen of a film, and while it does have too many moving parts for all of them to work, it’s still an interesting watch. Matías Rojas Valencia’s sophomore feature makes it clear that he is a talent to look out for.
A Place Called Dignity screened at the 2021 Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival.