Porfirio: In Which The "Air Pirate" Plays Himself 

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Porfirio
Directed by Alejandro Landes

All the world’s stripped-down docu-fictions are by definition “based on a true story,” but not often one like this: in 2005, a mustachioed fiftysomething named Porfirio Ramirez Aldana—recently robbed of the use of his legs after getting shot by police in the spinal column—hijacked a flight to Bogota with a pair of grenades that he smuggled through airport security in his diaper. Brazilian-born writer-director Alejandro Landes’s superb second feature casts the so-called Air Pirate as himself, in what amounts to a reenactment of the indignity-filled days leading up to the skyjacking. Porfirio’s son Jarlinsson Ramirez Reinoso takes the same role in the film, and non-pro Yor Jasbleidy Santos Torres plays a younger neighbor with whom Porfirio goes to bed—showing that circumstances have not completely sapped him of his vitality.

Landes spares the viewer no bodily process—in addition to the startlingly intimate sex scenes, early on Porfirio leans over to defecate while bathing in his backyard—but his attempt to understand what drives his protagonist to do the unthinkable feels closer to the work of the more-withholding director Lisandro Alonso (dryly humane) than that of Carlos Reygadas (who puts the “physical” in “metaphysical”). Ignored first by the government that promised him a settlement and then by a counselor who had pledged to file suit against the state on his behalf, Porfirio travels a closed loop between porch, mattress, and living-room cot. He supports himself by “selling minutes” on his cell phone, which he attaches to a gold chain that he holds like a leash as the paying customers do their talking.

The film itself is likewise tied closely to its protagonist’s movements. Landes—working with DP Thimios Bakatakis, who photographed the warped calisthenics of Dogtooth and Attenberg—views the mostly shirtless Porfirio’s housebound struggles in static shots, many of which incorporate contrasting planes of action (at one point, a progression of armed men pass by the rock-shattered window above the paraplegic’s bed); meanwhile, lateral motion of the camera is reserved for eerily placid dream sequences and our hero’s eventual wheelchair forays into town and out to the airport. The observational method certainly pays off: the man’s every move comes to seem deliberate, his every act rational—if increasingly rash.

Opens February 8

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