SXSW 2020 REVIEW: Gunpowder Heart⭐️⭐️

Gunpowder Heart ⭐️⭐️

The first full-length movie I watched for SXSW 2020 and captions are required, unless you speak Spanish.

The more detailed review that follows contains minor spoilers, but nothing major. It’s necessary to setup my full review commentary. If you prefer reading a spoiler-free review, then click on the link above and go that route, instead. If you continue on, then please expect spoilers.

… you’ve been warned, SPOILERS ahead …

The Story

It opens with the director explaining what the film is about using the term “two young queer women” which I found interesting. I mean, does it matter in the story if the women are queer? Does this have an important impact on the film, somehow? Or is this simply there to market to an LGBQT audience specifically?

The director continues, explaining that this is a very personal story from her and friends about sexual abuse and the impact on women. So, I surmised, this would be a drama involving a traumatic sexual attack.

Still, I wonder when will we get to the point when people skip sexual orientation labeling? I have zero against anybody’s sexuality, in fact I’ve been asking for more movies with main characters that are LGBTQ, but as a moviegoer I don’t want this spelled out in marketing or description of the film unless it is somehow important to the story.

Would it be here? Let’s find out.

But first, Amazon’s description of the film:

Claudia and Maria have fallen in love. They live in the city of Guatemala, a city full of stories related to abuse, unforgiving police officers, and charming secret corners. Everything changes one night when they are attacked by three men. They manage to escape but they now have to choose if they want revenge. Watch Gunpowder Heart | Prime Video

It starts with Maria showing Claudia a gun her mother gave to her and the two talking about how dangerous it is in their area. Foreshadowing that something is going to go down.

After being attacked early at the park, then getting the brush-off from the police (might be an interesting story there about how lazy and disinterested the cops are in this town), Maria gets her gun and they’re off searching for their attackers.

After spotting one of them at a carnival fixing rides, I was thinking the movie would go the Death Wish route, however, instead Maria just clumsily fires the gun into nothing and they run away. Interestingly, Maria goes to a gun range to practice shooting.

Then the movie descends into a lesbian love story, complete with a semi-graphic love scene. Claudia is more in love while Maria seems reluctant to fully reciprocate. Claudia tells her grandfather she wants to move to the United States with Maria. When he asks her if Maria loves her, she replies: “maybe, eventually.”

Those two words sum up the movie for me.

Maybe, eventually.

Maybe, eventually we’ll get to something exciting happening. Claudia and Maria are at odds as to what to do about their attackers. I know it’s not a Rambo movie, but even for a drama, a little bit of conflict is needed to justify the run time. Yes, there is a somewhat tense scene in a pool hall where the attackers come in and shoot pool, Claudia who is outside smoking calls Maria and warns her to escape. This scene had potential to be more dramatic and tense than it was. Instead, we see scattered shots of Maria cowering beneath a pool table.

They run into their perpetrators around town which kept making me think: are the police this incompetent that they can’t come and arrest these guys? Is it just a he said, she said situation?

Eventually, we run into a third wheel in the relationship, a boyfriend of sorts for Maria that makes Claudia jealous. With his arrival the movie becomes more interesting because now we’re now exploring more conflict.

That’s about as far in the recap as I can go without spoilers.

Summary (some of this is taken from my spoiler-free review at Letterboxd)

I liked the idea for the movie, but found myself wishing it was shot differently and about half the run time. This story wasn’t complex enough for a full-length movie. The ending was exciting, but lacking the necessary build-up. While there was an attempt to build the relationship between Claudia and Maria, neither character was that well-defined.

To answer my earlier question about whether them being queer mattered in the movie? It sort of did. We couldn’t get the lesbian love scene if they weren’t, I suppose. Was that central to the plot? No. So, they have sex. A lot of movies throw a steamy sex scene in, including most horror films, so I’m not really bagging on this addition. Also, I’m a guy, and like lesbian sex scenes — when they matter to the story. As presented here? Seemed unnecessary.

If 30-45 minutes could have been cut, including some unnecessary scenes, more tension around the bad guys. I mean how cardboard were these guys, anyway? We literally learn almost nothing about them or their motives. They are just guys who like to play pool and rape women in the park.

As for Claudia? Where in the United States did she dream of moving to? How was she planning to get there (on her motorcycle?). There were so many different ways this film could have explored characters and drawn my interest in more than it did.

I didn’t strongly dislike the film, but felt it presented many missed opportunities. The acting was competent, but not great. The cinematography was a bit vanilla, with some scenes feeling framed awkward and uninspiring. The sets were lit fairly well. The sound and music was pretty plain and didn’t really add to the experience. Perhaps this director will rework the script, tighten it up and try again? The story idea is interesting, but I kind of felt “meh” at the end of the day. Recommended? No.

Overall rating: ⭐️⭐️

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