Review by Dan Skip Allen
Camila Urrutia, the writer-director of Gunpowder Heart, has a personal stake in the story of her film. It is loosely based on her and her friend's personal experiences in Guatemala — she had a girlfriend that was assaulted one night while partying at a club.
Claudia (Andrea Henry) and Maria (Venessa Hernandez) are two young girls in Guatemala. They are lovers who don't have a care in the world. They both have jobs and make their own money and like to drink and hang out on a rooftop watching the sunset and the night lights of their town. One night after work, they go out for a little enjoyment and relaxation. They drink a little too much and some guys try to take advantage of them. Luckily, their screams are heard and they are saved.
This traumatic experience leads to some drama between Claudia and Maria. Maria just happens to have a gun she got from her mom, but Claudia doesn't like the idea of Maria having a gun. She believes she's not responsible enough to own a gun. The situation that happened is very fresh and she's worried that Maria might do something she might regret. This difference of opinions creates a rift between the two young lovers. Taking things into their own hands may not be the right thing to do.
Lesbian love stories aren't that prevalent in theaters these days, but there have been a few that come to mind over the years. Blue is the Warmest Colour that came out in 2013 and is quite the steamy love affair, and it is very similar to Gunpowder Heart. Both are foreign films, one French and the other Latin American. The two pairs of women seem very similar in tone and character to each other. But Gunpowder Heart arguably has more similarities to Thelma and Louise. It has the women on the run aspect to it that Blue is the Warmest Colour doesn't.
I can see how people watching this movie would have a difficult time picking a side between these two women. One has revenge in her heart and the other has love in her heart. Claudia truly loves Maria, but Maria can only think of one thing. How can she get payback for what she had been through? Claudia is in anguish over this the entire film. Maria just doesn't want to have anybody tell her what she can or cannot do. So she finds people who do agree with her. Partying is Maria's fallback to get everything out of her mind.
The streets and places in the town are filmed vividly with bright and colorful shots. The grittiness of this place comes to life in the film. Claudia rides a motorcycle as transportation and this is an effective device to see everything and everywhere around this area where Claudia and Maria live and work. The love these two have really comes to the forefront when they are riding together on the street at night. This is when they both seem alive. And the film really has the message of love in the love scenes between Maria and Claudia.
This film has a great message about the impact of sexual violence against women. Maybe it is because it is based on true events that the message is a little muddled and doesn't get the justice it deserves. Very good performances from these two complete unknowns give the film a drive to succeed. The revenge angle steers the film off in a direction that wasn't as good as it could have been. Still, the film does a good job of showing their love for one another, enough to make this film recommendable.
Gunpowder Heart was set to debut at the cancelled 2020 SXSW Film Festival and is currently streaming as a part of the SXSW 2020 Film Festival Collection on Amazon Prime.