This Relationship is a Complicated EVIL! “Blood-Red Ox” reviewed! (Breaking Glass Pictures / DVD)

Purchase “Blood-Red Ox” on DVD home video!

Writer Amir and his boyfriend Amat, whom have a hot-and-cold, off-and-on relationship, travel down to Bolivia on behalf of Amir’s friend seeking an expose on protecting the local endangered rainforest from land developers.  Upon arriving and settling into Amir’s friend’s childhood home set on the outskirts of town, Amat begins to experience reoccurring vivid nightmares that used to plague him prior to meeting Amir.  Disorienting, blood-soaked, and with a vicious-looking therianthropic beast – half-ox and half-human, Amat slowly begins to lose memories and even the memory of Amir fades.  Amir struggles to reconnect with Amat who’s continues his spiraling decent into paranoia and also struggles with juggling timelines as events of the past and present intersect in a surreal pattern of irrepressible madness.

For someone like me who has married into a Bolivian family and culture, you would think I would have been exposed to the entire cache of Bolivian cinema that could utilize the Earth-centric culture, a rich yet tumultuous history, and the vast number of landscapes that stretch from the Andes Mountains to the lush Rainforests to the desert plateaus.  However, the Bolivian film industry is microscopically small, and I’ve only ever experienced two Bolivian produced films in my 10+ years of marriage and my 39+ years of living on this Earth.  Both from 2021, the first was Kiro Russo’s “El Gran Movimient” aka “The Great Movement” about the destructive city life and how an unprincipled young man is saved by connecting himself back to mother earth by way of a Brujo, a male witchcraft practitioner living disconnected from modern society and living off the land.  The second was this film we’re about to cover, “Blood-Red Ox,” that was written and directed by Rodrigo Bellott, co-written alongside Nate Atkins (“Sinister Savior”).  Bellott bounces between native Bolivia and New York, having graduated from Ithaca College, and regularly uses the two locations in a broader sense in his films.  Bellott is also a part of the queer community and reflects a queer theme in much of his repertoire, including “Blood-Red Ox” where the two central characters are gay men in a relationship.  “Blood-Red Ox” is a production of Narrative Engineer, presented by Media Luna New Films, and is produced by Bellott, Andrea Componovo, Rodrigo A. Orozco, Kaolin Bass, and Yasser Casal Moreno with Nate Akins and Bernardo Ratto serving as executive producers.

Lebanese American Mazin Akar stars in his breakout feature length film as journalist Amir whose been called to write a story about the threat of an oil company deforesting and disrupting one of Bolivia’s natural and beautiful preservations, the rainforest.  Akar is accompanied by producer Kaolin Bass in what would be Bass’s debut feature film as well, playing Amir’s complicated love interest Amat.  Akar and Bass make a handsome couple, natural in on screen affections, and there’s a fair amount passion, compassion, and cathartic emotions to understand not only their love for each other, but also their surface issues of trust.  Bass provides an engaging performance as lover moving backwards in time in regard to his relationship with Amir while Amir remains the constant, stuck in the now but disoriented by his consciousness of Amat’s seemingly erratic actions but not conscious of the settings and timeframes that change and only noticeably by the audience.  All the while, Amir is encountering Bolivian and New York-based characters, some strange to them, some with changing personas, and others not terrifyingly abstract, such as the ox-headed naked man huffing and puffing like an ox.  Side principals Amancaya (Andrea Camponovo, “The Shades”), Amaru (Vitorio Lema) and Amro (Julián Mercado) have a parallel story of their own that becomes shadowed by Amir and Amat’s, leaving the story imbalanced by its perhaps narrowed focus on the queer aspect that relates better to Bellott, which the director had mentioned that “Blood-Red Ox” is a personal story to him in other articles.  Performances are raw with intimate and bold love scenes as well as makeup heavy and continuity intense details that really impress from the actors that requires of them full or partial nudity and to be able to be in the mindset of a swirling narrative.  If you haven’t noticed by now, all the character names begin with A that’s either a fun little characteristic or a far more trouble clue about characters as the cast rounds with Miguel Michel, Ana Dominguez, Idalmis Garcia, Shawn Brown, Toto Vaca, and Mary Ellen Liepins.

Atmospheric, surrealistic, and elevated horror, Bellot’s “Blood-Red Ox” feels like a labyrinth of the mind that’s partly eco-horror with the motifs of a looming ox figure reoccurring in and out of reality and the backdrop of Tarija’s rainforest threatened by industrial outsiders.  In 2017, Tarija suffered a large-scale forest fire that resulted in 3 deaths. many injured, and severe loss of ecosystem crucial vegetation, a fact that was incorporated into the dialogue and becoming the very foundation for the story built around it with a subtle theme of dependency that translates to the Amir and Amat relationship and we can see how that is all folded together when the finale reveals the truth. Before then, the seemingly straightforward mystery narrative following a rocky-at-best same-sex couple deep diving into the South American jungle, surrounded by unfriendly, perhaps slightly appalled locals that are either wary about outsiders or, what’s typical of South American culture, troubled to see two men in a relationship because of the male-dominated society. Much of the reactions are indirect and ambiguous but there, a hidden jab against noticed only by those being pelted by side-eyed glances, disapproval gestures, or curled lips of disgust. Bellott doesn’t chiefly focus on this nagging undertone but rather takes the narrative off road onto rocky, perilous terrain that increasingly becomes abstract and is riddled with conundrums. Timelines cross over one another as we’re teleported seamlessly, effortlessly back and forth between upstate New York and the colonialized-esque villas and mountain country of Tarija, Boliva. Bellott deconstructs Amir and Amat’s relationship by keeping Amir constant in the current and Amat moving backwards in time, creating friction as well as non-linear disorder leading to something just isn’t right with the whole situation. “Blood-Red Ox” descends into a lurid state that works until Bellott’s envoi of explanation that splits the story unevenly and without sensical justification as the story becomes too wrapped up and complicated where a less is more philosophy would have perfectly sufficed.

Provocative and boundary-pushing independent home release film distributor, Breaking Glass Pictures, strikes a deal with Media Luna New Films to release “Blood-Red Ox” onto DVD.  Presented in an unmated 1.78:1 aspect ratio, the wall-to-wall image is hotly lit gel and tinted for most of the fever dreams and hallucinations with the ox-irritating color – a deep shade of red or otherwise known as oxblood red.  However, there are obvious compression issues with fanned out dithered banding on the primary color and on certain negative spaces.  The feature, shot in 2K on a RED camera, is housed on a DVD5 and while a quite few scenes appear unfazed with measured detail, a DVD 9 would have better suited to render the sizeable color use and enhanced the textures, such as a skin to which there is plenty of in the film.  With any digital recording, the transfer is free from any kind of deterioration, wear, age, and other miscellaneous plights.  The audio is track is a lossy Spanish/English Stereo 2.0.  For a dual channel audio output, the result is reasonable enough with the ancillary ambience and dialogue is clear and clean.  The English subtitles are synched well and flawless up until one spelling error late in third act.  There are no bonus features included with this release and there are no bonus scenes during or after the credits. The physical DVD comes in a standard snapper case with a composite of the two principal men embracing each other from one scene with a large, augmented ox head with glowing red eyes and smoke coming out from the side looming above. Locked in a region 1 code, the DVD runtime is 94 minutes and is not rated. “Blood-Red Ox” can be labeled many things – a mental health story, a queer story, an eco-activist story, an avant-garde psychological thriller story – but what the film really symbolizes is the constant day-to-day struggle, in the thick of surrounding horrors, to live a normal life.

“Blood-Red Ox” on DVD home video!

Nature is Healing. The EVILs of Industry are Destructive. “The Great Movement” reviewed! (Sovreign Films / Digital Screener)



A group of out of work Huanuni miners march into the capital of La Paz to protest forced labor shortages.  Young miners Gallo, Gato, and Elder roam around La Paz to rummage up piecemeal work to live.  When they find work as commodity runners at an outside market, the job is labor intensive, pays very little, and they must sleep outside with other runners and vendors with essentially everything they own on their back.  The job takes a toll on Elder who is suffering a strange illness that cases fever, coughing, shortness of breath, and fatigue that hurts his pockets when he can’t run product in a timely manner.  Elder comes under the wing of a mysterious earthy, old woman who thinks Elder is her godson and she enlists the holistic medicine of a clairvoyant herbalist, living off the mountainous land just outside the city, to extract the unnatural elements that plague him.

Every so often, diving into a dramatic piece of filmic art, with hints of nightmarish surrealism to satisfy the horror element (or, in this case, the EVIL), is worth cracking into and peering into dependent the writher’s personal taste and the influencing environment surrounding.  In this instance, Kiro Russo’s “The Great Movement” spoke to the interests of this reviewer for not only the urban growth is death, nature is life social commentary but also my intimate connection to Bolivia because of my second-generation wife whose mother was born and raised in the South American country before migrating to the U.S.  “The Great Movement,” aka “El Gran Movimiento,” is the first native Bolivian film I’ve ever seen and that, too, sparked a curiosity in the Bolivian film industry that was virtually thought of as nonexistent.  Russo writes-and-directs the film produced by an international conglomerate of production companies with Altamar Films (“Killing the Dead”), Bord Cadre Films (“The Untamed”) and the La Paz based Socavón Cine as well as Sovereign Films who also distributes the film.

“The Great Movement” is a continuation of Elder Mamani’s story in this follow-up film from Russo’s 2016 “Dark Skull” where Elder’s moves in with his grandmother after his father’s death.  Living in a mining town, Elder pickups a miner job which leads to unearthed secrets about his father.  Julio César Ticona reprises his role as Elder, marching from the mines to the capital in protest for work only to be stricken by an illness insinuated from his dirty work at the mines.  Only a little of the previous “Dark Skull” story works itself way into the next chapter revolving around Elder’s suffering from various forms of urban reaping toxicity and also a clairvoyant old man living off the adjacent wilderness.  Max Bautista Uchasara, in his performance debut or at least as stated on IMDB, plays…well…Max, the well-loved, if not hard-loved, and dirty-cladded mystic that sees visions of La Paz in ruins.  Elder and Max cross paths because of Elder’s unexplainable sickness, without hardly a word spoken between them, to eradicate his illness and heal the young man’s failing body.  The connection between them is an old urbanite woman Mama Pancha (Francisa Arce de Aro) who thinks Elder is her godson but Elder, taking advantage of her kindness and generosity, doesn’t know this random person and, in the grand scheme of mysticism, Mama Pancha, which translates loosely to Mother Earth, is a symbolic representation of a forgiving planet lending a hand to an ore reaping miner by introducing a natural healer.  “The Great Movement” rounds out with a cast in Gustavo Milán Ticona, Israel Hurtado, Armando Ochoa, and Richard Aguilera. 

Through Russo’s use of cityscape and natural soundscape compositions, the sound design injects a creeping presence, enveloping the characters either insidiously or soothingly in their respective surroundings. The overwhelming arsenal of concrete jungle noise pollution becomes the harsh soundtrack that contributes to Elder’s environmentally unfriendly downfall. Every car horn, every construction machinery, every hustle and bustle of foot traffic is a spike through the head as Russo wants to make sure you can feel the audible image. In contrast, Max experiences virtually little noise, aside from streams, wind, and the rustle of greenery, in his detachment from clustered society when roaming the mountainous wilderness. Max’s elder ways grant him inexplicable aptitude that allows him to essentially speak to nature, live amongst the trees, and use the land for beneficial properties without waste and destruction. This encourages Pancha Mama, aka Mother Earth impression, to ask Max to heal her godson, aka an Earth child. This is Kiro Russo’s linchpin theme for “The Great Movement” that showcases a distinct dissonance between urbanization and nature. Being a nationality outsider going into Bolivia, that distinction is immensely obvious seeing firsthand the lack of organization, resources, and care for the city I travelled to that has been turned into a comprehensively polluted, dry dust-riddled, population on top of a population where one has trouble simply inhaling a breath of fresh air and struggling with the annoyance of a bloody nose. Now, I’m not singling out or epitomizing this one area of Bolivia I journeyed to as the worst of the worst, much of the same can be said about New York City sans the dust, but once you escape the city limits and step into Bolivia’s lush jungle, the air is noticeably cleaner with an almost healing effect on the body – no more bloody nose! My experiences greatly make visible and nail in Russo’s message as we accompany Elder through his deterioration, hearing about inhaling dust as a miner, drinking nothing but strong alcohol, and being worked literally to death with backbreaking labor. Modern medicine can’t locate or explain his symptoms, diagnosing Elder with psychological manifestation of physical problems. Russo’s “The Great Movement” is powerful and invokes soul-searching about reconnecting and healing with Mother Nature.

An insomniac nightmare that’s haunting in Russo’s solemn vision and full of delirium, “The Great Movement” is an arduous detox from the overdevelopment’s intoxicating prospect. Sovreign Films will release Kiro Russo’s 85-minute disenchanting and revival tale in UK cinemas on April 15th, 2022. With the limitations of a digital screener, I am unable to entirely comment on the audio and video quality, but the film is shot in the faint speckle of super 16mm and is presented in a widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio to get the full spectrum of the cinematographer Pablo Paniagua shot Bolivia from the market busy streets to the monolithic stone and mountain structures on delineated outskirts of the capital. Paniagua employs the vibrancy of daylight and the scarcity of night light for tenebrous effect already poorly rendered by the 16mm grain. Miguel Llanques’s score is often overshadowed by the conspicuous soundscape, but the impromptu synth-flash mob dream sequence broke up the feverish trajectory at midpoint with catchy beat and dance seemingly out of nowhere. There are no bonus scenes during or after the credits. “The Great Movement” is just as raw with the foreboding circumstances in the rest the world civilization as it is with Bolivia in Kiro Russo’s film that shepherds the overlooked denizens in need for growth back to a natural world of healing.