Retablo (CIFF 2018)

review by Kate Blair

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Retablo is a beautifully-shot film from Peru that is undermined by the uglier parts of its narrative. The film’s title refers to the objects produced by master craftsman, Noé (Amiel Cayo), who is passing along the trade to his talented son, Segundo (Junior Béjar Roca). It was the promise of seeing these objects up close that lured me to this film, and in that respect, Retablo delivers. Peruvian retablos are intricate pieces of art that use colorful clay figurines to depict religious, historical, and everyday events. These tableaus are displayed in painted boxes, which unfold into triptychs.

Father and son spend their days in a cluttered workshop molding clay, selling their wares, and returning home in time for dinner. In indoor scenes, the frame is filled with details that call to mind the objects of the film’s title. In addition to its miniature wonders, Retablo offers up gorgeous vistas of the Andes, which form the everyday backdrop of the characters’ walks to and from the village.

Director Álvaro Delgado-Aparicio and cinematographer Mario Bassino use long, static takes that allow minute details to reveal themselves: a small object in the corner of the screen or a facial expression that slowly evolves over time. Perhaps there is an implication that taking time to deeply examine a scene can reveal hidden truths. And soon enough, Segundo discovers his father’s secret, when he witnesses an intimate moment between Noé and another man.

The local community finds out, and the family becomes ostracized. While in Peruvian cities, LGBTQ culture is increasingly visible, rural areas such as the one Retablo depicts are less accepting. Therefore it’s not necessarily the sadness and violence that offend here as much as the way the film seems to posit that Noé’s identity stands in the way of his son’s prosperity. Despite this, Retablo is a feast for the eyes and a family drama that is worth watching—if only for its gorgeous visuals.

Screened as a part of the 54th Chicago International Film Festival.