Film Talk: Now Entering: "Days of the Whale," Grief, and Refuge
"In this 2019 Colombian film (which scored a 100% on Rotten Tomatoes), Cris and Simon are two young graffiti artists who combat the battle for power among their city with art."
There is a group of people that exist in limbo. The immigrants, migrants, any one who has to say a Latinx, Asian, or African before they can say ‘American.’ Have you ever wondered what it’d be like to step fully into the world you hear family members sighing over? Have you ever wondered what it would be like coming of age or even being a young adult in South America? It is something I often think about. Having migrated here when I was eleven, I find I am attached to films that tell the story of what my upbringing would have been had my parents not brought me to the United States.
Last month I was introduced to a very special film: Days of the Whale, directed by Catalina Arroyave Restrepo. In this 2019 Colombian film (which scored a 100% on Rotten Tomatoes), Cris and Simon are two young graffiti artists who combat the battle for power among their city with art. The two defy a criminal gang when they decide to paint the mural of a whale over a threat written on a wall. The film, driven by the pair’s love for one another, their band of struggling artists, and their craft, weaves an important portrait of Columbia and the enduring qualities of those who inhabit it.
The film has a seductive tension that makes it hard to look away. The music and city sounds add to the chaos, while the performances are grounded, natural, and authentic. There is a fear in the air from living in a city where crime haunts. My favorite part of the film is the connection between art and chosen family. The local well intentioned artists find one another through shared passion and ethics, using an old house “La Selva” as refuge.
Refuge. Something we all need. But our homes where we usually decompress and unwind have become our offices, restaurants, coffee shops, and salons. My refuge was going to the movie theater. It was my weekly activity. Ah, the good old days! Taking a break in the middle of the day, attending a matinee at my local theater– these were my salvation to L.A’s summertime heat. My refuge awashed me in frigid air condition and fictional scenes.
Then, three months ago, I received an invitation to attend a Zoom meeting with my favorite theater Bati Cine en Tepoztlan, the pueblo in Mexico by my home city. The theater is run by two incredible women: Viviana Garcia Besné and Elisa Miller. Despite a constant case of Zoom fatigue I attended. It quickly became clear to me that through this virtual world we are currently in, I could attend all the things I usually miss because of distance. I felt energized, inspired. I found my new refuge. El Cine and Bati Cine immediately came together to unite cinephiles from all over the world.
These Zooms led us to in-depth conversations about films, with truly the most beautiful multicultural crowd I’ve ever witnessed. In Days of the Whale, there is such a relatable and moving juxtaposition between the danger lurking outside and the safe space inside the chosen family. I saw the darkness of feeling isolated in your own home reflected in these scenes, and I escaped into it.
Catalina, who directed the film talks about growing up in Medellin, Colombia, the country’s second largest metropolis who once held the reputation of the world’s most dangerous city in the 90’s. She told SXSW, “I was born and raised in Medellín, a city that has struggled for years with a history of violence, and that is mostly a conservative town. My spirit crashed against different structures while becoming a woman in this context: my family, my private school and university, the mafia culture of the city, the control gangs have of the territory and the way you´re supposed to be a woman here. This film is the result of this permanent crashing against something.” Yet, while growing up amidst so much conflict, Catalina still holds a “nostalgic feeling” for those that grew up with her and felt the teenage rush of invincibility in all the chaos. “Days Of the Whale talks about those days of being lost but feeling powerful.”
It is transparent that the film is made with love, featuring emerging independent music and visual artists from Medellin. The film is intimate, open, and full of breathtaking risks.
Society is going through a growth spurt in the face of so much loss. Now, when I wake up and see the same four walls, the death count on the TV screen in front of a grieving Beirut or gallons of oil off the coast of Mauritius, I see a whale.
“The whale is a metaphor for lost innocence; that intensity we lose over time. Something within us dies when we face life’s harsh realities. In the film the whale dies but it’s reincarnated as the graffiti painting. It’s also a metaphor for what the people of my city decide not to see even though reality is facing them on every street corner. But I also want it to be a mystery, something that each viewer discovers for themselves,” Catalina told Medium.
I discovered my mystery. This film showed me a refuge. This is our Days of the Whale.
You can order a virtual screening of the film here.
Meet the Family
Mariana Da Silva is a Brazilian Mexican writer/actress who lives in Los Angeles. She is the founder of El Cine, a Latin Film Organization that promotes film education and charitable giving. Mariana has appeared on Telenovelas and TV series, her credits include El Rostro De Analia, Las Dos Caras de Ana and NCIS. Mariana's short films have appeared at festivals world wide.
Mariana is right handed.