Andrew Reviews Oscar Ruiz Navia’s Crab Trap [PIFF 2011 Review]

[Hey readers, Ryan here. I’m so pleased to present the first review from a local cinephile here in Portland, Oregon: Andrew Collins. Andrew currently produces one of my favorite screenshot blogs, and has a lot of the same film-loving sensibilities that I think we all share here on the site. Andrew is attending the Portland International Film Festival this year, and wanted to share some thoughts on a few films that he’s seen. Hopefully I can talk Andrew into writing more for the site in the future, but for now, here is his review of Oscar Ruis Navia’s Crab Trap.]

A blend of documentary style realism and dreamlike stillness, Crab Trap will be a fascinating film to watch for Terence Malick fans and newcomers to Columbian Cinema. Slow and atmospheric, there are quiet and delicate moments of everyday life depicted throughout and music is nearly wholly absent from the running time.

Set in the isolated village of La Barra, Oscar Ruiz Navia’s debut feature film is filled with mostly non-professional actors. The story begins with a man ambling alone out of the jungle. It’s a rain forest containing power lines in the canopy above and faint hip-hop bleeding through the trees. Entering a poverty-stricken village between the forest and the sea Daniel (Rodrigo Vélez) finds himself living alongside the locals who spend their days eating rice, picking up plastic detritus off the beach, and trying to ignore the blasting music coming from the outdoor speakers belonging to El Paisa (Jaime Andres Casta?o) the white male European transplant down the beach.

Daniel badly needs a boat to leave the village and spends most of the film alongside the downtrodden Cerebro (Arnobio Salazar Rivas), the informal head of the Afro-Colombian community, doing odd jobs to pay his way until he can leave. Cerebro is the heart and soul of the film and his sadness of the economic state the village finds itself in carries more weight than the activities of the central vagabond.

Daniel also finds himself being trailed day and night by a local child named Lucia (Yisela Alvarez), who repeatedly asks him to spend money at her Mother’s makeshift restaurant. Emotions slowly simmer and Cerebro bitterly resents the lack of fish in the waters and is so frustrated by the incessant music from his neighbor that he chops wood to relieve his tension.

Vélez is a slightly alien looking but likable lead, but the film doesn’t give him a lot to work with. Observational moments watching him sleep, laying in his hammock, showering, and picking trash off the sand are interesting, but rarely pointed. Small clues and plot threads seem to take shape and then vanish. Daniel gazes at a picture of a mysterious woman from his past yet never gives reason for his urgent need to leave. A thread of a romantic entanglement between the local beauty and the men comes and goes and even a scene with Cerebro leading Daniel deep into the jungle with a machete on a shaky canoe is a dramatic dead-end.

Made with care and a steady hand, Crab Trap is a simple story, beautiful in it’s languid pace and washed out visions of the Pacific Coast of Columbia. Moody and subtle, the film is unlikely to attract much attention, but for fans of such films it has plenty to offer, provided drama and intricate plotting are not expected.

Crab Trap will be screening at the Portland International Film Festival on Thursday, the 24th, and Saturday the 26th.