A heartfelt drama from a director who still has things to learn.


Amiel Cayo and Junior Bejar Roca


This is not only a film of notably good intentions but also a brave one to have made. The director is Alvaro Delgado Aparicio, who is also the co-author of the piece with Héctor Gálvez, and Retablo is set in their home country, Peru. For much of its length, the film is a study of a 14-year-old boy, Segundo (Junior Bejar Roca) growing up in a rural area where he assists his father, Noé (Amiel Cayo). The latter's work, a labour of love, involves the creation of retablos, portable boxes designed to house painted figures depicting a scene that is often of a religious nature. Alternatively, they can represent everyday life as in a group portrait of a family like the one seen posing for Noé's camera in the film's opening scene so that the image becomes the model for the figures he will prepare out of paste. Over the years Noé has become revered in the neighbourhood as a master of this craft.


There is, of course, local colour in all of this and that provides some interest, but what makes the film a brave venture is that the narrative is actually building up to scenes that offer a sympathetic view of homosexuality. Peru is sadly known for its hostility to homosexuals so Aparicio is to be congratulated on choosing for his first feature film a humane work that dares to express this viewpoint. Unusually, he has opted to tell a story that is not about a youngster coming to realise that he is gay but one that shows how a boy reacts when unexpectedly his father is attacked and treated as a pariah after being caught having sex with a man.


Usually I am a reviewer who follows the rule that late plot developments should not be revealed, but in this case the gay theme is not only important to the film but is likely to be the reason why certain audiences will want to seek it out. It seems appropriate therefore to break the rule here as I have just done but without   disclosing how the film ends. Other things being equal (which I don't think that they are in this case), Retablo might have been a film that could in any case be recommended as a study of adolescence. Despite his attraction to his father's work we see how Segundo feels the need to rebel and to show his independence rather than continuing to assist his father meekly, that work being considered by other boys as not sufficiently macho so that they taunt him for it.


I have said that this is Aparicio's first feature and unfortunately that is all too evident from the way in which he tells the story. The narrative lacks flow as it moves jerkily from scene to scene including some that seem arbitrarily placed and with the camera not always focussed on what matters in the image. Fortunately, the last third works better and here Junior Bejar Roca in the central role of Segundo becomes more expressive too. I wish that I could be more positive about the film as a whole and there are indeed helpful performances from Cayo and from Magaly Solier as the parents. However, what encourages me to applaud what is really a very uneven piece is the stance taken by the film together with the fact that the final impact is greater than expected because the last section of the film is so very much the best.




Cast: Amiel Cayo, Junior Bejar Roca, Magaly Solier, Mauro Chuchon, Ubaldo Huamán, Hermelinda Luján, Claudia Solís, Ricardo Bromley López.


Dir Alvaro Delgado Aparicio, Pro Enid Campos, Alvaro Delgado-Aparicio, Lasse Scharpen and Menno Döring, Screenplay Alvaro Delgado Aparicio and Héctor Gálvez, Ph Mario Bassino, Art Dir Eduardo Camino, Ed Eric Williams, Music Harry Escott.


Siri Producciones/Catch of the Day Films.
102 mins. Peru/Germany/Norway. 2017. Rel: 24 July 2020. Available on Barbican Cinema on Demand until 7 August 2020. Cert. 15.