Los Conductos: Concrete Cathedral, by David Bax
Camilo Restrepo’s Los Conductos opens with a camera, apparently mounted on a vehicle, rushing through an otherwise empty traffic tunnel at night. We’ve seen this shot in movies before but something’s different this time. The camera is higher than the point of view of almost any possible driver, giving the impression of nearly skimming the tunnel’s ceiling. It lends an air of danger and uneasiness to what would seem to be images of thrilling abandon.
That’s a pretty good summation of how it must feel to be Pinky (Luis Felipe Lozano), a man who has recently extricated himself from a cult. After years of submission to the sect’s leader, he is finally able to live his life for himself. The freedom is exhilarating but also terrifying. He’s like a housecat who makes a break through the front door only to freeze as soon as he is confronted with the impossible bigness of the sky.
Restrepo contrasts shots of movement like the one described above with ones of perfect stillness. Sometimes we’re watching Pinky as he smokes or just stands around and sometimes we’re watching what he’s watching, transfixed by cascades of fabric or the spinning screen-printing apparatus at the t-shirt factory where he eventually finds work.
Pinky narrates the film but only when he absolutely needs to; there’s very little dialogue of any sort in Los Conductos. In its place, there is lots of music by Arthur B. Gillette (Gabriel and the Mountain). Some of it is driving and pulsing, music made to be danced to. But, in other cases, like with that long take of the textile waterfall mentioned above, it is towering, almost choral-sounding. The music seems to be reaching for the sublime.
Lozano is a first-time actor. In fact, the character is based on him and the narrative closely resembles his own life story as a cult escapee. So Pinky’s trepidation and sometimes bizarre behavior in his halting attempts to reenter society never feel like tics or gestures. They are just him; the things that shaped Pinky also shaped Lozano.
Restrepo doesn’t make us question whether or not the cult was a bad place for Pinky–the little backstory we get makes it clear that it was an abusive culture–but it doesn’t fully endorse the method of his escape. Yet the irony is that, along with his newfound autonomy, Pinky seems to be grieving the spiritual connection the sect gave him. There’s an emptiness in him now that he needs to fill. Ultimately, there’s a hint of optimism to the harrowing beauty of Los Conductos, a suggestion that, if you’re open to it, everything can be a religious experience. A parade can be a church service. A cigarette can be a prayer.
Opens 4/29 at Film at Lincoln Center.