The streets of Medellín, Columbia, are the setting for Catalina Arroyave’s debut feature, The Days of the Whale. The streets she shows us are filled with color because of the music and graffiti artwork. But those streets are also places of darkness because of the crime that fills the city.
Cristina (Laura Tobón) and Simón (David Escallón) are young lovers who express their freedom through their graffiti artwork. Cris is a university student from a middle-class family, but her mother is journalist living in Spain after getting death threats from the local gangs. Simón is from a working-class neighborhood. He has pressure to be a part of the gang that runs his neighborhood. They both are part of an artist cooperative that teaches children. But when the local gang leaves a threatening message across the street from the cooperative, Cris and Simón decide they will cover it with a massive whale in honor of Cris’s mother.
Cris has far more options open to her. She has vague plans to live with her mother, but that would mean leaving Simón behind. Simón wants to avoid the gangs, but has few other options. The uncertainty of their relationship is an additional strain. Cris is under additional strain with her father and step-mother over her seeming lack of effort in school—and her choice of a boyfriend. Yet we see her father is loving in his interactions and corrections.
The film uses the artwork and music to create a vibrant atmosphere that energizes the story. This allows what could seem like an oppressive world to seem more life affirming.
The obvious metaphor of the film is how one leaves a mark on the world. In the world of this film, the graffiti art is an expression of freedom against the gangs that control the streets. Cris and Simón put beauty (or just a name) to show that they will not be docile. The artist cooperative is in itself a statement that they are not subservient to the criminal elements. For Cris and Simón their art speaks for them. The whale will be a very clear statement that they do not fear the gangs. It will also be Cris’s statement of love for her absent mother.
Freedom, as it is explored in this film, is not so much the desire to do what one wishes; it is an active revolt against the oppressive forces. Freedom is the ability to stand up and be heard. To leave marks (or paintings) that can encourage others to find their own modes of expression.
The Days of the Whale is screening on Virtual Cinema through local art houses.
Photos courtesy of Outsider Pictures.