Director: Juan Diego Escobar Alzate
Writers: Juan Diego Escobar Alzate
Starring: Conrado Osorio, Yuri Vargas, Andrea Esquivel, Sharon Guzman, Johan Camacho
Duration: 104 mins
BBFC Certification: 18
As film debuts go, they do not get more visually striking that Luz: The Flower of Evil. A bucolic opening presents us with a vivid, oversaturated colour palette, where the Columbian landscape is rendered in hues so rich and deep you might be mistaken for thinking you are looking at an animated oil painting. Later on, these stunning landscapes are dominated by a huge glowing moon and silhouettes of skeletal trees, scenes and images that feel like they have been ripped straight out of a dark fairy tale. There does not seem to be a moment in Luz where director Juan Diego Escobar Alzate is not intent on taking your breath away and, to a large extent, he mostly succeeds. Yet of course there has to be more to a film than just awe inspiring visuals. The question that arises after you have grown used to the pastel coloured skies is if there is a good enough story to support the incredibly accomplished technical skill that fizzes though Luz like shimmering heat wave.
The story, also written by Alzate, centres around a small, God fearing community in what seems (apart from a suggestion of modernity offered by a tape recorder) to be early 20th century Columbia (although it is likely to take place far later than that). The community is dominated by El Señor (Conrado Osorio), a puritanical farmer who runs his family of three daughters with a suffocating moral authority. When El Señor brings a young boy to the village whom he claims to be Jesus, the community is soon ripped apart by calamitous events that makes everyone question whether the boy really is the saviour he has been purported to be.
Alzate takes his time immersing the audience in his hyper-real world. Through a lyrical voice over that presides over a deliberate pace that focuses as much on the landscape and philosophical musings as it does on character, Luz often feels like Jodorowsky directing a homage to Terrance Malick. This feeling is only compounded by the retro look of the film, which often feels like it has flown in from 1974.
In terms of the plot, however, Luz seems to take its most direct influence from a far more modern film, that is as dark and grim as Luz is bright and acid hued. That movie is Robert Egger’s The Witch, from which Luz draws similar parallels in its exploration of the human flaws that can be exacerbated by an unchecked, puritanical faith. Anyone expecting Luz to depict anything that could be described as supernatural, however, should be prepared to hold their expectations in check. This is a film where suggestion trumps fact, where human flaws take centre stage over any demonic or ghostly antagonistic forces.
For a film that is quite happy to wallow (sometimes to its detriment) in philosophical concerns about the nature of evil, Luz never feels weighed down by them, rooted as it is with enough engaging performances to make the film consistently entertaining. Conrado Osorio just about manages to imbue El Señor with enough human empathy to ensure he doesn’t come across as a religious caricature, while the film’s heart belongs to the trio of daughters who provide warmth, soul and tragedy in equal measure.
Luz may not successfully provide the answers to the questions it raises and it is the kind of film that is more interested in exploring those questions than delivering a traditional narrative, yet it remains a beautifully lyrical movie about the dangers of faith and the nature of good and evil. It may end up feeling more hollow than satisfying, but that doesn’t detract from the fact that Alzate should be applauded for creating such a visually stunning debut. If you are prepared for the film’s images to linger in your mind far longer than any profound or original insights, then you might find much to enjoy here.
Luz: The Flower of Evil is released digitally on the 26th July. A stacked Blu Ray limited edition of just 1000 units (which I wasn’t able to review) will then be released on the 6th September by exciting new UK label Fractured Visions.