“RETABLO”— A Peruvian Coming-of-Age Story


A Peruvian Coming-of-Age Story

Amos Lassen

Filmmaker Álvaro Delgado-Aparicio L. takes us to Peru where the beautiful landscape hides an intolerant and ugly undercurrent. The people that live in the rural villages of Peru are seen as having reactionary and religiously motivated attitudes towards same sex relationships. This is something fourteen-year-old Segundo (Junior Béjar Roca) finds out the hard way.

Segundo is training to follow in the footsteps of his artisan father Noe, (Amiel Cayo), a man whose artfully crafted story-boxes have earned him the undying respect of numerous Peruvian mountain communities. He may be a father to Segundo, but the townsfolk all unanimously refer to him as “maestro” or “master” without a lick of irony. On the drive to a community celebration, thanking the father and son team for a story-box they made, Segundo witnesses his dad in the midst of a sexual act with another man and his entire world falls Segundo is going through puberty in a toxically masculine landscape, where his father is the only role model worth looking up to. He slowly begins to realize that he has more in common with his dad than initially realized and this something which is going to cause considerable trouble.

The film is a visual feast. Álvaro Delgado-Aparicio L. and cinematographer Mario Bassino use long takes throughout the entire film, mainly focusing on characters staring in to the distance before we see what they see. From the beginning we are made aware of the father’s considerable attention to detail and the long shots evidence this. In the second half the focus is on Segundo’s coming to terms with the life altering sex act he saw and it’s here this motif changes. We see his gaze struggle to permanently fix in any direction like it did before thus giving the suggestion that he is trying to ignore a reality he can’t alter.

This is an emotionally brutal tale of self-realization that depicts the terror of a closeted life for people of different generations and it is haunting. The relationship between 14-year-old Segundo and his artisan father is the main point. They are isolated in the rural mountains of Peru and pass their time creating retablos of important families in the nearby city. The first ten minutes of this film are a study in mutual father-son love as both males hone their craft.

The delivery of the retablos that hint at the film’s conflict. The son first notices his father getting carried away with the celebrations in town and coming home drunk. Then he witnesses something that he can never forget and fractures within his close-knit family and society erupt and threaten to destabilize everything the boy knows.

Just the intricate artwork of the retablos and the insights into a Peruvian cultural tradition make this film worthy of seeing alone but then there is also the dynamic relationship between father and son artisans that that is going to face very difficult times.

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