Theo Montoya signs a cemetery film about a Colombian youth brushing shoulders with death


Image taken from the experimental film “Anhell69”, by Theo Montoya. DUBLIN FILMS


At night, a hearse speeds through the streets of Medellin, Colombia’s second largest city. The young director ofAnhell69, Theo Montoya, slipped into the coffin in the back, eyes closed in the dim light. For more than an hour, his voice-over tells us about the structure of this hybrid work, half-documentary, half-surreal, inhabited by ghosts with reddened eyes who seem to have come out ofUncle Boonmee, the one remembers his past lives (2010), by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Palme d’Or at Cannes.

At the wheel, and for connoisseurs, Colombian filmmaker Victor Gaviria, whose films about teenage highs have become cult – Rodrigo D. Future: none (1990), The Little Rose Seller (1998) – in the same way as In Vanda’s room (2000), by the Portuguese Pedro Costa.

In a few words, the director, cinematographer and producer, born in 1995, “two years after the death of Pablo Escobar” (one of the main drug lords in Colombia in the 1980s, at the head of the Medellin cartel), sets the scene of his short life: a missing father, an adolescence spent on the street smoking marijuana, and the discovery of cinema in cinemas, “the only place I could cry”he said.

Feeling of suffocation

Theo Montoya evokes this feeling of suffocation in Medellin, surrounded by mountains, where “we can’t see the horizon”, and this existential void which dissolves in parties, drugs, the urgency to live in the present, even if it means dying. The film is not particularly happy. Because Anhell69 was born from a massacre, following the death of several friends of the filmmaker, between 2017 and 2021 (suicides, overdoses, etc.). Most have not passed the age of thirty.

We discover some of them, in fact, during a casting organized by Theo Montoya in 2017. One by one, sitting on the same Skai chair, the queer boys introduce themselves, talk about their dreams, in the short term (because they feel incapable of imagining their life in five or ten years), wonder about their sexuality. Death is a friend, explains one of them, the one who has always been there, behind them, and who, one day, ends up showing up. Go to the sky, it stretches out its arms to you, a cloudy plane above the enclosed metropolis seems to say.

Among the aspiring actors, Camilo Najar, a dark angel in a tank top with thin straps, died a week after the casting. After dedicating a short film to him, Son of Sodom (2020), in competition at Cannes, Theo Montoya pays tribute to him in Anhell69, the title of the film referring to Camilo Najar’s Instagram handle. The director imagines a story of spectrophilia, where the living are sexually attracted to ghosts. Recycling images of these missing loved ones, capturing glimpses of their masked and made-up faces, Theo Montoya immortalizes them on film.

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