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‘Anhell69’ Review: A View To The Representational Forms Of The Future



Anhell69
Anhell69 (Theo Montoya, 2022); image courtesy of Barbican

Screened as part of Barbican Young Programmers’ Chronic Youth Film Festival, Anhell69 represents a changing tide in activist filmmaking, welcomed by exactly the “chronic youth” at whom it is aimed.


Theo Montoya’s exposé of Medellin might slip in and out of reality but throughout its pithy 75-minute runtime, the song remains the same: the fight for queer representation is partly a political one, so why not use the restructuring of representation in queer cinema as it applies to political upheaval?


The film is a sprawling work of colour and sound, grounded if anything by the empathy with which Montoya approaches his subjects. The troupe of actors and friends are filmed with such love and respect that it balances the film’s often jarring mixture of fantastical set design and the real-life struggles of the queer community in Medellin.


Anhell69 opens with a hearse driving through the streets of Medellin, a city which, as voiceover and archival footage tell us, is wrought with right-wing violence, casting a long shadow on Colombia’s peace process of the late 2010s. But who has died? Did they fall victim to the violence? Is it even a person? We may venture to suggest that this cadaver represents death in the film on both an activist and representational level, as the first insight into the story-within-a-story of Montoya’s film. This story-within-a-story, in which ghosts come to Earth after Heaven reaches capacity (cf. Pulse (Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 2001) as potential inspiration for this) but are repressed by authorities when they begin to fall in love with humans, thematises the overhaul of the conventional narrative modes that deny queer people existence by telling its story in a way never seen before in cinema. One can imagine that ghosts walking the streets would be as difficult to ignore as the existence of queer people and their infernal struggle as it is presented in Montoya’s film.


On the other hand, the cadaver in the hearse, however mystical its scenes may appear, does not just exist in the film’s discourse, but is grounded tragically in the reality of the situation. Another character who binds queer struggle with its representational modes, who we later find out has himself passed, is Camilo. He’s first introduced during videoed auditions for Montoya’s film; a quiet, androgynous man, he talks of his experience in the real-life Medellin, where, as with all the other auditionees for Montoya’s film-within-a-film, he knows people in the queer community who have died through either violence or overdose. It is these anecdotes that become the basis for Montoya’s film-within-a-film, with Camilo starring as “Anhell,” the martyred boy who leads a resistance on his return to earth as a ghost. However, as Montoya explains, Camilo died from an overdose before they could shoot.


This fact falls front and centre in the film, where the power of the visual reigns. The film is interspersed with archival footage of the violence in Medellin; resistance fighters use their phones to communicate their struggle as well as their uprising. There is a reason Montoya uses the dead to stand in for a community denied existence and safety in society—he has found a new avenue to represent the queer community, given that they are not afforded it in real life.


But, of course, real life is where the deaths occur, and where the real change happens. The loose materialism of Anhell69 is a testament to this, but is nonetheless still trapped within the confines of cinema—perhaps why Montoya always finds himself crying in the cinema, as he muses throughout the making of his film. To open the screening, two of the Young Programmers, emphasised this fact, pointing to the QR codes directing audience members to a donation page for Medical Aid for Palestine. A beautiful chain of events, from Camilo falling into Montoya’s hands to Anhell69 falling into the hands of the Young Programmers, has led to an opportunity for real change. Above anything in the film, the dynamic movement of Anhell69 through these various oppressive boundaries, real or figurative, is most laudable. As if ghosts walked the streets, Camilo’s martyrdom has finally transcended the screen. If only he were here to see it.


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