Review by Camden Ferrell
Days of the Whale had its premiere at the 2019 SXSW International Film Festival. It has also played at other festivals such as the Chicago Latino Film Festival. This film is the directorial debut of Colombian writer and director Catalina Arroyave Restrepo. This film uses its simplicity and brevity to its advantage to tell a story about artistic spirit and rebellion through its protagonists.
In this film, Cristina and Simon are two young graffiti artists in Medellín, Colombia. When a local gang paints a threat over a wall, they both set out to defy them by painting over it with a mural of their own. This movie wonderfully captures many universal ideas and themes through its simple premise while also infusing some aspects of modern Colombian social relations and culture.
Arroyave’s script is one that revels in its ability to be subtle. It’s not a flashy script full of complex dialogue and excessive banter. It finds beauty in the simple exchanges of its characters, and it creates tension through its limited dialogue as well. In her first movie, she has already proven she knows how much dialogue is sufficient in telling her story. She never explicitly explains anything that she doesn’t have to. It’s well-written, and all of the dialogue helps characterizes its protagonists and progress its plot forward.
The acting in this movie is mostly really great. Newcomer Laura Tobón, who plays Cristina, gives a fantastic debut performance. She has a rather captivating screen presence that succeeds mostly due to her natural ability as an actress and the nonchalant nature of her character. She has a special way of conveying emotions in such an authentic way, and it’s one of the film’s best traits. Alongside her, David Escallón plays Simon, and while he is mostly decent, he does often pale in comparison to Tobón’s performance.
The movie also comes off as energetic thanks to Arroyave’s direction as well as the cinematography of David Correa. He knows how to wonderfully capture the scenes in which the protagonists are painting and creating the mural, and he also can capture the manic energy that arises from the gang-related violence and tension in the film.
However, this movie isn’t perfect. While it succeeds in many regards, there are moments that feel less crucial than others in this movie. The home lives of the protagonists are interesting, but it seems like we’re not getting nearly enough context through them, and the film may have benefitted from extending these moments or cutting it down to the minimum. The film’s quick runtime also doesn’t give a lot of room for the plot to grow incrementally, and this leads to the film ending with audiences craving more, which is arguably a good problem to have.
Fortunately, the movie makes up for its flaws with how it uniquely captures what it means to grow up, rebel, and love, but it also manages to incorporate aspects of Medellín’s gang culture and social problems. It’s a poignant story that feels relatable mostly due to Tobón’s performance, and it’s one that suggests an incredibly bright future for her as well as Arroyave.
Days of the Whale has its flaws, but it succeeds in being a great coming of age film as well as a great exploration of the spirit of youth. Arroyave’s debut film is an impressive one that proves she will soon become a truly great director that’s worth keeping on your radar.
Days of the Whale will be having its virtual premiere on July 24, and locations can be found here.