Anfibio/ Amphibian (Héctor Silva Núñez, Venezuela/Cuba, 2014)


In Anfibio, the approach is neo-realist; the actors, non-professional; the social problems, real; and the backdrop, a tropical paradise whose beauty is not quite hampered by poverty and lack of opportunity. It’s a beautiful film, rendered with a poet’s touch.

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In the film, two brothers, two motherless boys, José (Franklin González) and Jesús (Jesús Manuel García), clearly very close to each other, suffer the demands of a patriarchal father in a rural village that subsists on fishing. But is the father harsh or is he simply making a mistake in how he’s going about trying to do right by his two boys in difficult circumstances? It’s a question the film leaves open.

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What we find out is that José, the eldest, has recently returned home – prison’s unspecified but something shady is hinted at –and doesn’t want to earn a living fishing with his father; that he’s also not doing anything else; that even his considerably younger brother Jesús can’t find him the work he needs to continue living at home and that the place doesn’t offer him many other options on the right side of the law. His father tells him that if he doesn’t bring home money, he’ll have to unburden the house of another mouth to feed and make his own way in the world. We’ve already seen José been turned down for work and it’s been suggested that he’s perhaps not a good bet as an employee; that employers don’t want to risk a job on someone who’s perhaps been trouble or been in trouble before. The boy ends up stealing some money, presumably to give his father but ends up leaving home anyway, which is probably not as his father intended.

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Amphibian is a short film but intense and packing the kind of power often provided by the poetic. The story is about a family living on the outskirts of Maracaibo, off the coast of Venezuela, on a shore where the houses practically seem to be built above the sea, on stilts. But the film’s imagery condenses meanings that reverberate and echo on as hints and suggestions through the film. Fishing seems to be the main way of life; but it’s subsistence fishing; and the young boy wants more; but in leaving to get more; he leaves a way of life and a brother at the mercy of the father and the sea. A considerably younger brother, Jesús, who he’s close to and who’s angry enough at him to reject his ill-gotten bounty, offered as a gesture of love and rejected in anger and in hurt. A small and helpless turtle and a fancy mobile phone are the oppositional symbols around which the film is structured. Anfibio shows us a world, its inhabitants, their relationships, the various connections between these people, the landscape they inhabit and live off and their way of life; all on the cusp of change. An evocative, richly suggestive work that is gorgeous to look at, lovely to experience and rewarding to think about.

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José Arroyo

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