Home » “Pepe”, Pablo Escobar’s hippopotamus in an experimental film

“Pepe”, Pablo Escobar’s hippopotamus in an experimental film

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“Pepe”, Pablo Escobar’s hippopotamus in an experimental film

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It is not at all usual to find a truly experimental film entered into competition at a festival of the caliber of the Berlinale: it happened this year with “Pepe”, a new film by the Dominican Nelson Carlos De Los Santos Arias, a director who made his name in 2017 with his previous work, “Cocote”, presented at the Locarno and Toronto Festivals.

With this film the director raises the bar of ambition, using a strong imagination to tell a fictional story which however takes inspiration from a news story. During the 1980s, the infamous drug trafficker Pablo Escobar smuggled a group of hippos from Africa to live on his estate, the Hacienda Nápoles.

After his death, in 1993, the animals began to spread throughout the Colombian nature, creating a real colony that endangered the local ecosystem, sowing panic among the inhabitants. Among the animals was Pepe, the first and only hippopotamus to be killed in South America. Again in 2023, Colombian news returned to talking about these hippos and the government decided to intervene, through sterilization and various hypotheses on how be able to contain this species which does not naturally belong to the local fauna.

Starting from these topical bases, Nelson Carlos De Los Santos Arias has created a film that opens by making us hear noises and shots, as if we were on a hunting trip whose objectives, however, we cannot see clearly. Then we begin to hear the inner voice of a hippopotamus, which will describe part of its journey during the long narrative of the film: “Pepe” lasts about 2 hours and for a product of this type it is a truly substantial and decidedly excessive running time.

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Philosophical insights and redundant moments

Even though there is no actual division, “Pepe” is a film built on a bipartite structure, in which on one side we follow the thoughts of the animal and on the other we focus on human beings, on their faults and their fears. the first part, in which we often take the point of view of the hippopotamus, is extremely suggestive and also strong in numerous philosophical ideas, the second ends up being more didactic and redundant. Given the slant given to the operation, Nelson Carlos De Los Santos Arias could have pushed even more on the meditative side of the story, leaving out other more canonical parts that end up adding nothing to the vision. In any case, it remains a very original product, which the Berlinale selectors have courageously included in the main competition and which leaves room for several important reflections, as well as providing some visually splendid sequences, among which the final one stands out.

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