Credit: Sebastán Pinzón Silva & Canela Rayes/Cinéma du Réel
by Zach Lewis Featured Film

La Bonga — Sebastán Pinzón Silva & Canela Rayes [Cinéma du Réel ’23 Review]

March 31, 2023

Most of La Bonga takes place in darkness; just flashlights serve as key lights while voices (voiceovers? diegetic?) guide the shaky frame to an invisible destination. This destination is the titular La Bonga, a village that exists only in the memories of those who once lived there in the north Colombian jungle. Now, the villagers are resettling after years of displacement, and directors Sebastán Pinzón Silva and Canela Rayes document this nocturnal trek and celebration.

The film switches between two focal points: a caravan of those villagers and friends making the return together and a solitary mother and daughter duo who take a path separated from the others. Through both groups, Silva and Rayes collect flashes of stories about old village life and the subsequent expulsion. A man in a pink Frozen backpack jokes with his friends, while a 53-year-old woman compliments an 82-year-old man on his endurance, while memories of white people threatening their lives suddenly surface. Steadily, the film reveals that the villagers of La Bonga were threatened to leave their homes twenty years ago, during the Colombian Civil War, as they were seen as assets of the guerrilla fighters (FARC is never mentioned by name). Emotional whiplash overwhelms the villagers as they finally return to the ruins of La Bonga: some buildings, such as the “recently” built school, still stand while entire homes have framed under a massive tree during the first minutes of dawn such that their long series of shadows gives us an idea of the size of the village before cutting to individual portraits, usually lit by flashlight. Another shot frames their lights in the nighttime to show a series of tiny lights in the distance snaking their way through the brush of the jungle. And, in the sort of serendipity a documentarian prays for, the daughter of our duo puts her flashlight in her umbrella, which then becomes a makeshift diffuser as they rest and talk. All of these planned, framed shots work well when showing a group, but La Bonga’s wisdom lies in its ability to interrupt these beautiful moments with the improvisatory, cheap DV confessionals so that we can see the village’s life in the villagers and vice versa. Silva and Rayes show the history and lives that make up a community; and, though the houses may no longer stand, and each villager may have moments in which they wander in solemnity, the party continues for now.

Published as part of InRO Weekly — Volume 1, Issue 13.