Juan Sebastián Quebrada’s ‘The Other Son’: A Nuanced Take on Grief in Colombia’s Middle Classes, Signalling a Evolution in Colombian Filmmaking

Juan Sebastián Quebrada’s ‘The Other Son’: A Nuanced Take on Grief in Colombia’s Middle Classes, Signalling a Evolution in Colombian Filmmaking

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Colombia‘s film landscape is undergoing a significant evolution. As streaming platforms grow in the country and international productions leverage Colombia’s tax incentives, new avenues have emerged for filmmakers to venture into uncharted territories. 

Selected for San Sebastián’s New Directors competition, Juan Sebastián Quebrada’s “The Other Son” exemplifies this transformation. Franco Lolli’s work has undeniably carved out a niche for stories centred around Colombia’s middle class; Quebrada’s further explores and expands these narratives, opening up new areas for investigation in filmmaking.

In “The Other Son,” we follow the life of Federico (Miguel González) and his brother Simon, who revel in the throes of adolescence. Tragedy strikes when Simon meets an untimely death, plunging from a balcony during a party. As Federico grapples with this loss, he finds himself drawn to Laura (Ilona Almansa), Simon’s girlfriend, seeking solace in their shared grief. Amidst this emotional turmoil, Jenny Navarrete plays the role of a grieving mother. The depth and complexity of her portrayal underscore the rigorous attention to performance informing the film. 

The film have been brought to life by Lolli’s Evidencia Films (Colombia), Geko Films (France), and Le Tiro (Argentina), with sales handled by Spain’s Film Factory.

As “The Other Son” expands horizons for Colombian storytelling, it serves as an indie beacon in a nation’s burgeoning film industry. Underscoring a significant shift from sociological issues, his work illuminates the growing range of narratives that delve into emotional and psychological realms.

Variety caught up with Quebrada.

How do you navigate shifting styles between movies, especially regarding preconceived ideas and focusing on emotions within the frame? There’s a clear shift in style between your graduate feature ‘Strange Days’ and this second movie.

I was very connected to “Strange Days“ as an editor, always working before an image and being aware of the rhythm, the shot, the acting, the movement of the characters in space etc. And with this film I felt it was much more important not to come with preconceived ideas. Ideas sometimes hinder one’s vision. Also, I wasn’t interested in pointing out to people that I am filming. First of all, I want to trust what is happening within the shot. Not in its composition, nor its filmic flourishes but in the emotion. It seemed frivolous to me to face it from any other viewpoint. The energy and concentration were in how I was getting emotionally closer to those characters and, above all, how an out-of-frame universe could in many moments talk to that – with what was happening to them.

We discussed previously the challenges of portraying pain in film and finding the right tone. Navarrete’s performance is a tightrope act that manages to affect an audience.  How did you work with the actors to achieve the desired tone and depth of emotion?

The tone is very difficult, and that implies a really large amount of work, but it’s also very intuitive one. There is something self-evident in grief. We all know that people are going to suffer. I was wondering how I could express this without telling the viewer the obvious., avoiding self-pity or a kind of “victimization.” Some pains have many layers. Deep down there’s a wave that generates anguish and opens other scenarios that are more and more complex. Finding those moments, making them really visceral, was a work of trial and error together with Jenny the actress. Having that type of improvisation and time to work on the scene also changed our way of filming, which somehow always remained very indie.

Although this film deals mostly with grief and the unexpected consequences of death, in all of your films there is a vein of erotism, and in each one you approach it from different perspectives. Could you comment? 

It’s very interesting because sexuality actually represents so much of the human psyche, right? So much lingers between these affective relationships, so many types of tensions are built in an emotional relation and to me sexuality cuts across all these levels. It stems out of an absolute of life, not simply daily life, but its deepest psychology, in the unconscious. Parts of Latin American cinema deals with it as an abject concept. As if it were terrain where one doesn’t want to be. It’s curious. I don’t try to find it necessarily in everything but I try to look at how it reveals some state, whether psychological or emotional. Definitely in this film, it’s both a start and an end point so we focused on finding contrast between the two scenes. 

A second feature always presents a challenge to any director, especially if their first movie was successful. What are your thoughts on this?

I see how many directors throw themselves into filmmaking, do so very spontaneously and then are contaminated by festivals. It feels as if they film to be seen by festivals and what they think festivals want to see. This will be considered a somewhat bourgeois movie which goes against what’s expected from a Colombian film even if it has a clear social subtext. That doesn’t bother me. European festivals expect us to always be doing sociology, as if Colombians would only have social problems, not psychological ones. And that’s a space that I’d really like to investigate further. 

Juan Sebastián Quebrada and Franco Lolli Courtesy of Film Factory

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