Review by Sean Boelman
Guatemalan filmmaker Jayro Bustamante is on a roll right now, his last film La Llorona being in contention for the Academy Award for Best International Feature. The drama 1991, co-written by Bustamante and written and directed by Sergio Ramírez, is a short but searing social commentary offering a compelling look at Guatemalan society.
The movie follows a lower-class teenage boy who finds his way into a popular group at school thanks to his exceptional soccer skills, only to discover that these people are not as friendly as they seem. The film generally hits a lot of the usual coming-of-age beats, but the angle that Ramírez and co. take is shocking and unexpected.
This is definitely a movie that has a lot to say. The script tackles a lot of difficult issues like racism in classism in a way that is consistently thought-provoking. Short bursts of brutality in the film are also effective in showing and exploring the unignorable role that violence plays in Latin American history.
That said, the movie does leave some things to be desired. At a mere seventy minutes, it often feels like the film is rushing through a lot of its conflict, especially in the third act. It definitely would have been nice to see the movie go into more depth regarding the class warfare that makes for some of the most horrifying scenes.
The character development in the film also could have used some additional work. The protagonist is a very straightforward conflicted teen character. His inner arc is deciding between the life of crime and his conscience, and this is something we have probably seen hundreds of times before.
There is a really strong cast in the movie that does a good job of bringing this group of boys to life. It’s a shame that the film didn’t put more into developing the dynamic that builds between the four of them, because they work better as a unit at odds with each other than they do on an individual level.
Ramírez is also clearly a very strong director despite this only being his second feature. Although the movie is set in 1991, Ramírez gives it a somewhat modern style, emphasizing how these themes are still relevant despite dealing with history. And the more extreme moments in the film are shot in a way that expertly builds tension.
1991 isn’t going to be as high-profile as the other Guatemalan movies that have broken out in recent years, but it’s just as deserving. It’s an effective coming-of-age story with familiar beats but unique ideas.
1991 is screening as a part of the 2021 Miami Film Festival, which runs in person and online from March 5-14, 2021.
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