REVIEW: ANGELS AND DUST
This is a mesmerising, hallucinogenic journey through the gangs and drug culture of modern Panama, which due to its geographical position has become a strategic connection for international drug smuggling, especially heroin and cocaine – the titular “angel dust” that gives the film it’s name.
When music producer, Paco and his wife, Kene, are arrested at the airport with plates of cocaine strapped to their bodies, his brother, Mauricio, is dragged into a dangerous underworld. Desperate to do something, Mauricio leaves his home in Barcelona behind and – with the help of illegal taxi driver, Fat – settles into a new life in Panama, where you “have to earn respect on the street as well as in prison.”
Director Hector Herrera has made a fast-paced, action-doco that leans towards the conventions of a thriller. His camera lingers on the extreme angle, the knuckles of the driver; a dead rat in the foreground as a bus pulls up; Fat the taxi driver shirtless and sweating in the middle of the desert like an inscrutable black Buddha. The soundtrack and editing accentuate this, using reverb and dub for maximum effect and a cool hip hop samples interspersed with the drugs, guns gangs and violence in tight, fast, stacotto shots that leave you mesmerized.
As the wheels of bureaucracy slowly turn, Mauricio tries to secure protection in prison for Paco and Kene and win custody of their two year old daughter, seized at the airport by social services. Paco soon comes under the wing of violent killer, Matón, and even starts producing music from prison, a brutal, corrupt, “cemetery of the living” where if you don’t have the money to bribe your way, you are doomed.
But life on the streets is even more dangerous, and this film also tells the story of modern Panama in a hundred little ways, more powerfully than any news report. Every day, more and more people are killed in wars between rival gangs, and director Herrera has unparalleled access to the streets alongside journalists like William Sala, who spend their days going from one crime scene to another. And as the thugs, the crime scenes, and the dead bodies pile up, the face of the ghettos of Panama is revealed in all its human misery.Guided by Fat’s friends, former gang members Julito and Lolo, Mauricio witnesses first-hand the realities of ghetto life.
I wondered as I watched this film, though, that this gritty slice of life has forevermore colored my perception of life in Panama. But as the producers say at the end, “our film doesn’t pretend to picture the reality of a whole nation and its people, but to offer a testimony through the lives and opinions of our characters.”
None of these people are angels, nor devils, but that strange mix of in between of humans, with powerful stories laid bare, and well worth watching.
WATCH THIS FILM