Los conductos is a disarmingly personal film that is also masterful in its understanding of the way artifice interacts with realism.
Camilo Restrepo has made a feature film the only way he can: wielding the detritus-fascinated and tactility-obsessed temperament that colored his mercurial documentary work to spin out a cathartic and despairing fantasy for his real-life subject. Friend and occasional collaborator of the director for close to ten years now, Luis Felipe “Pinky” Lozano had previously spent some time under the sway of a religious cultist enigmatically known as “Father,” and Los conductos pieces together his recollections of this specific time, achieving a rare docu-fictitious coup of abstract reenactment and near-ethnographic wandering. It’s not unlike an early iteration of direct-cinema rejiggered for the 21st century, where extreme proximity with a subject electrifies the entire film with an intoxicating subjectivity.
Subjectivity doesn’t necessarily produce omniscience, however, and Restrepo keeps Pinky at arm’s length, content is he to permit his linchpin to speak and act for himself, his own filmmaking adapting itself as Los conductos uncoils. A coil may be the film’s most fittingly succinct comparison: an implicit tightness, a series of innumerable loops layered atop one another. It’s pulled taut right at the outset, with a gunshot and muzzle flash sparking across the shadowy screen, one of the first discernible images being that of a bloody bullet hole in a white-clad torso. Restrepo had promised Pinky a cinematic exorcism for the cultish manipulation he was victim to, and as the film cycles around its vertiginous helices, it becomes increasingly apparent that it’s working toward its beginning once again to achieve its center’s wish: “to kill the Father.”
Los conductos’ structure prioritizes the ancillary, so even with something of a mythic quest as its raison d’être, it’s as much of a catalog of everyday survival, Pinky practically being regurgitated back into the demoralizing Colombian grind, a death drive of intermingling commerce and fakery. He moves through bootleg print shops — Kappa, Adidas, Nike — that withhold pay, and skirts a prison-like routine in its employees’ habits, who hide pilfered cigarettes in mildewy wall alcoves and mercilessly sabotage newcomers with rumor and intimidation. The 16mm photography devours all the granular details of these settings, rendering them painterly, tactile, abstract: one shop prints sheets of cartoonish flames, which when hung out to dry, connect both thrillingly and simply with the incantations of an inescapable hell on the soundtrack’s voiceover.
The print shops are the most inviting footholds proffered by the film, the various processes made tangible and recognizable; Pinky’s own transient status, however, guarantees that this work is more a stopover than an endpoint. Has he killed the Father already at this point? It’s uncertain, though his influence is still an insidious albatross, alive or dead, compounding Los conductos’ cyclicality even further. The curt edits, trading one visually rich image for another before blowing it up — a discarded fast food platter interrupts at one point; a pack of cigarettes is soaked purposefully beyond usability with a hose — could be rearranged across the svelte 70-minute runtime, this interchangeability one of Restrepo’s greatest attributes, the ability to wrest singularity from what would otherwise be the aesthetic veneer of another stultifyingly achronological festival entry art film. Keyed in on Pinky’s own internal rhythms, Los conductos is disarmingly personal, yet still acknowledges its objective construction, the way artifice interacts with realism. Amidst its fiercely indicting undercurrents — mostly directed at the working strictures of modern-day Colombia that have ensnared Pinky — is a profession of friendly cinematic reverence, Restrepo remaining endearingly self-effacing even as his artistry asserts itself.