First things, first: I'm a huge fan of independent cinema, world cinema, and art house fare. It's where a lot of the most originality and creativity in the film world comes from, so to speak. I thoroughly enjoy the fact that many filmmakers have worked to tell stories that are distinct, unique, and engrossing by trying something different from the all the rest. Yet originality's actually not always a good indicator of quality storytelling.
La Sirga tries to explore it's story, characters, and storytelling in a unique way. It fits in with the same class of distinctiveness that defines some of the best efforts of world cinema and art films made with an independent flair. Why is that so? Because distinctiveness and originality can be found in spades in La Sirga. However, does it succeed as a film? Absolutely not. This is one of the worst world-cinema independent films I have ever seen and I would not recommend it at all.
The film centers upon Alicia (Joghis Seudin Arias) and her attempt to continue on with life with serious circumstances standing in her way of true happiness. She was a victim of war who lost a family and home with armed conflicts causing the problems she now resides within: as the film unfolds it's focus is on Alicia being in a new environment, trying to start over for herself, while living in La Sirga, and specifically aside the watery shores of highland lakes, in a cold, harsher, unwelcoming environment unknown to many. As the film unfolds, audiences are introduced to her only surviving relative, her Uncle Oscar (Julio Cesar Roble), his wife, and his son. Within La Sirga they run a hotel which is in dire need of repairs. Over the course of the film, Alicia is helping with the hotel improvements, and she meets a young man who becomes her boyfriend. The course of the story revolves around what will happen to Alicia in her journey, what might happen to her boyfriend, and what will happen with the hotel and the people living there. That resides the main focus of the film's plot-line storytelling.
The problem with this film is that it doesn't really know a good way to convey whatever it is actually trying to convey. The setting: bleak, abysmal, depressing, and icily cold. It's really effectively conveyed by writer/director William Vega. But who are these characters? The production does a bad job of doing anything effectively in regards to that. Alicia deals in spiritually complicated matters of her own, one might imagine, because of her solitude. However, we don't get to know her character that well, as there's very little dialogue.
As for the rest of the characters? They are entirely unlikeable, with the sole exception of Alicia's boyfriend. Everyone else seems to just be taking advantage of her from start to end of the film. The storytelling doesn't leave much room to get to know the characters, and what we see isn't something that will convey much else.
However, the biggest problem with the film may simply be that it doesn't know how to convey anything that it is attempting to convey to audiences, beyond the basic concept that poverty is harsh, cruel, and terrible -- and that war is too. I say this partly because I watched this effort largely confused and bored by what was going on story-wise, as most of the film is simply lengthy, drawn-out shots of characters walking around, sitting, doing little things that are essentially non-essentials to telling a story in an interesting way.
So, was the whole point of the film to convey that war and poverty is bad? At first glance, probably. However, according to the director's notes included in this release (and the long making-of documentary) there was a lot of effort to convey a sense of the land with classic myths, legends, and stories of the land. The film wanted to bring a sense of conveying these elements of stories in Vega's story. Well, it all passed over me while watching the film. Most people unfamiliar with Columbian history wouldn't in fact understand any of those artistically sound concepts as conveyed in the film.
Basically, to be blunt about my feelings on the filmmaking, it felt as though writer/director Vega and cinematographer Sofia Oggioni Hatty were more concerned with focusing on the landscape of the environment and how to photograph these moments than with telling any other story. It also seems as though they don't understand how to craft compelling characters.
La Sirga conveys that people can be bad in war situations, that war is terrible, and that poverty is harsh and unnecessary. However, as Vega has constructed it, the exact message could have been conveyed with a five minute short. Alas, it's something that is a major oversight. Vega was basically just trying to re-tell a similarly based story from what he did as a 14 minute short film (also included on this release), that similarly to La Sirga feels overlong and unable to properly convey everything it wants to. Characters are barely developed and I didn't understand these myths or legends or concepts that apparently were part of the intended effect. Frankly, something about the film was massively boring. I don't enjoy films comprised almost entirely of landscape shots. I got sick of seemingly endless framing showcasing the vast emptiness of the landscape with nothing else moving the story. The cold environmental element conveys a point, but it essentially managed to put me to sleep at the same time. Vega seems to be smart and with an incredible knowledge of Columbia but the film just doesn't work the way he wants it to.
La Sirga arrives on DVD by Film Movement with a 1.85:1 transfer preserving the original theatrical exhibition ratio. The anamorphic widescreen transfer is decent enough, but with unimpressive color depth, abundant grain, and murky shadow details, the film has a cold atmospheric quality that isn't going to amaze anyone but is properly preserving the look conveyed as intended by cinematographer Sofia Oggioni Hatty.
Audio:The film includes standard 2.0 and 5.1 surround sound offerings, but frankly, both sound unspectacular. The sound design hardly utilizes the surround activity at all. It's basically expanded 2.0 audio at best, with a little added ambiance. La Sirga almost feels like it's a experimental silent film at times with how minimalistic the sound design is. I wasn't that impressed by this aspect of the sound design or the quality of it's presentation. Dialogue is soft but easy enough to understand, though the film hardly uses any dialogue.
Film Movement continues to include a monthly short film. This release contains the short film Simiente, directed by William Vega (La Sirga), which was the basis for the feature-length. It's basic approach is identical and just like the full-length film it feels overlong.
Surprisingly, there is also a making-of documentary (which is not even mentioned on the case). The documentary runs around an hour and features behind-the-scenes footage and interviews. Some of the comments shared in the documentary made me really feel as though the film is something that wasn't able to present all of the ideas writer/director Vega had. These core concepts explored through the making-of simply weren't felt with the actual feature-film.
La Sirga simultaneously manages to convey some of its concepts well and some (as indicated by the writer/director) are not properly conveyed at all with the production. While some art-house fans might appreciate the movie, I found it to be overly simplistic, long, boring, and creatively incapable of telling it's basic story. It demonstrated the original artistic voice of Vega but the filmmaking just wasn't good enough for a full length feature (nor for the 14 minute long short film highlighted on the release).