Film Review: Cabros de Mierda

English title: “The Young Shepherd’

(Gonzalo Justiniano, Chile, 2017) with Nathalie Aragonese, Daniel Contessa Aguirre and Elias Collado Moya.

‘Cabros de Mierda’ means ‘Damned Kids’ in a sanitized English translation – though the film’s official English title is; The Young Shepherd.  It is the name of a neighbourhood football team but also sends a message of dissent. In this film the dissent, the refusal to be cowed, comes from La Victoria, the Santiago ‘población’ whose protests against the Pinochet regime (1973-89) remain emblematic even today when resistance to dictatorship is recalled. Chile’s poblaciones are not exactly slums or shanty towns but although the word evokes insecure housing, poor infrastructure and low incomes, it also invokes a culture of dissent, protest and rebellion.

Director Gustavo Justiniano

The film builds on this narrative but adds in the theme of the ‘good American’: Samuel Thompson, a stereotypically ingenuous, do-gooding evangelical missionary in the Mormon uniform of darks suit, black tie and white shirt, arrives to lodge in a house of women, one of whom, nick-named La Francesita (the French girl), is young, sexy and tough, plus one boy, Vladi, aged about 9, darting about the scene like a querulous pixie, his enormous thick-rimmed glasses ill-fitting and taped together, the very personification of childhood  liveliness and curiosity.  The film is carried by him and La Francesita.

The story is littered with sharp-edges of Chile’s popular culture: the three generations of women all called Gladys – to which the American, on being introduced at the start, responds by asking if the dog is also called Gladys.  Plenty of Chilean slang (huevón, huevada, etc.), plenty of invasions of private space, notably by Vladi who has a knack for popping up in the wrong place at the wrong time, stylized wall-painting as political action, a night-club so cheap and scrappy it must be hiding something sinister (it does). Tacit and secret hints and gestures provide the big theme of resistance – resistance against all the odds. Messages hidden in baskets, activists hidden under floorboards, and Vladi’s father, the classic balding intellectual revolutionary, a graduate of concentration camp and torture chamber, who after briefly appearing to the ecstatic delight of his son, has to escape almost immediately.

Of course, the missionary is won over, first sexually and then politically, and of course he is extracted in a rescue-cum-kidnap by his colleagues when the going gets rough. But it has to end badly. Walls are painted with images and slogans, carefully prepared with cardboard cutouts, the army and the police arrive, a trail of paint leads to the house of the Gladyses. Vladi’s father is killed in cold blood and the little boy himself is killed when soldiers shoot into a riot; La Francesita and her fellow organizers, all women, suffer the worst of all fates, and helicopters drop their bodies into the sea.

The film does not quite finish there, but ends with a message at once religious and anti-clerical. When the neighbourhood spy is tracked down with help from the returning Samuel, now sporting a beanie and longer hair, he is found with a group of associates gathered unconvincingly around an image of the Virgin Mary. The spy says he has confessed his sins and been forgiven in the court of Jesus Christ. Nothing could be less Christian: what theology ever taught that divine justice could take the place of human justice?

You can see the trailer

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