“HE HATED PIGEONS”— A Promise

he hated pigeons poster

“He Hated Pigeons”

A Promise

Amos Lassen

Love is everything when a young man journeys from the north to the south of Chile to fulfill a promise. Director Ingrid Veninger brings us a road trip through the grieving process of a recently bereaved young man. Pedro Fontaine is Elias, a young Chilean man who is blindsided by the sudden death of his free-spirited Canadian boyfriend Sebastian (Cristobal Tapia Montt). We meet him a month after that. Elias has driven out to the Atacama desert (the place where Sebastian died) at night, and once there, he howls his anguish and builds a small shrine to his lost love.

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Elias starts off in the dark, and ends his journey in the light; He is alone, even when he is surrounded by families on a beach. Elias feels compelled to embark upon the road trip that he had hoped to take with Sebastian. Starting out at Copiapo, in the north of Chile, he drives down to the south. It is largely a solitary journey, with flashbacks to the time he spent with Sebastian. These little glimpses are crucial so that we can understand the nature of Elias’s grief. We also need these to allow us to breathe as we watch Elias, a very handsome young man dealing with his grief.

Along the way, Elias meets fellow travelers who help guide him towards the spiritual peace he feels that he needs and craves. Some of the encounters are fleeting – a brief conversation with an English backpacker, a surprise meeting with an old friend while others are more substantial. Elias forms a bond with a stray dog and, for a few hours at least, considers taking it with him. A Canadian backpacker (director Veninger herself) compliments him on his positive energy.

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Veninger resists the temptation to over explain the tragedy although she plants the seeds of suspicion that Sebastian’s death might have been suicide. There is also a bit of a hint that Elias’s new start might involve the same route, although more optimistic audience members will prefer to read the film’s open ending as the beginning of a new journey rather than the final end of a journey that ended with the death of Sebastian.

This is a cinematically gorgeous film. Cinematographer Dylan Macleod makes use of the nature’s scenery. This is also a film that plays with our emotions—- it kicks us hard in the stomach and leaves us without breath. I do not believe that anyone can sit through this movie without shedding a few tears. Plain and simple, this is a film about grief. Few have been able to put this on the screen successfully but Verlinger does so beautifully and truthfully. I am having a hard time finding the words to describe what we see here. It forces us to commit to feelings of grief. It is experiential, but with a complex character at the core and it is a stunning experience.

Fontaine shares the grief that his character feels for the sweet, vibrant young man he loved, a young man who passed away far too early in life. Fontaine is a man on an odyssey to the ends of the earth in Chile and he uses his dead lover’s diary-like book of sketches, collages and other lovely works of art as a kind of emotional road map on this journey. His private grief in addition to an episodic, always-fascinating series of life-affirming scenes involving Fontaine and several people he meets on the way, caused me to shake and I cannot get the pictures out of my mind.

In essence, this is one man’s journey to try and make sense out of loss and try to understand what truly happened when the facts are unclear. Since the film takes place in Chile and Sebastian was both a foreigner (Canadian) and gay, there are echoes of Chie’s past history when many simply disappeared.

Pedro Fontaine gives a quiet and engaging performance as the man who feels compelled to take a journey to deal with his grief, loss and, perhaps, guilt. The focus stays on him throughout with only a few other characters in the film. Here is a film that encompasses the universal themes of love, loss and grief and it is rendered with limited dialogue and beautiful but ,at times, haunting visuals.

Canadian writer/director/producer/actress Ingrid Veninger has stipulated that each screening of the film should have a live musical accompaniment, allowing local musicians the freedom to improvise and interpret the work differently each time.

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