Un Varón (A Male) Image

Un Varón (A Male)

By Jason Delgado | December 7, 2023

What does it mean to be a man trying to make it in the mean streets of Bogota, Colombia? That’s a question that filmmaker Fabian Hernández attempts to answer with his feature film Un Varón (A Male), Colombia’s official submission for Best International Feature at the 2024 Oscars.

The film starts with some documentary-style talking heads who explain that if you don’t learn to be tough, the streets will devour you whole. Or if you don’t grow up with essential things such as family to support you. The rest of the movie, through the lens of the main character Carlos (newcomer Dilan Felipe Ramirez Espitia), sets off to show us exactly what they’re talking about.

Carlos is a small-time drug dealer who lives in a prison-like homeless shelter. At the same time, his mother actually serves time in the big house, and his sister Nicole (Juanita Carrillo Ortiz) makes a living as a prostitute. It’s the opposite of the wholesomeness of a television classic like Leave It to Beaver, and the decrepit street settings are quite effective at giving off the feeling of hopelessness these characters must be experiencing. 

“…if you don’t learn to be tough, the streets will devour you whole.”

Carlos tries to act tough, but it’s clear that as Un Varón plays out, it is just an act out of necessity. He wears a football jersey and asks the shelter barber for a haircut “like a man” but gets made fun of by a muscle-bound weightlifter who says that Carlos needs to learn how to lift like him. He turns down an overly zealous prostitute because he’s scared and makes her promise not to tell anyone. Carlos also gets manhandled by a shady associate of his sister’s, which leads to even more of a need for Carlos to “be a man” because the people on the streets who witnessed this will not accept anything less. 

Dilan Felipe Ramirez Espitia is an interesting choice by Hernández for the lead role because there is an obvious femininity to his physical being. Could this casting be part of a pro-LGBTQ+ message that is not directly addressed in the movie but is used subconsciously? I believe so, and it’s accentuated in a scene where Carlos draws his own lipstick mustache on a mirror for his eyes only. Despite being new to the film world, Espitia expertly captures the essence of someone struggling to be the hardened man that his environment demands. You can see through his emotions that he longs to have a normal family life, but it’s out of reach.

The movie takes place during Christmas time, which makes the whole story even more depressing since there is nothing jolly about the damaged characters or gray-colored settings. The slow-paced eighty-one-minute film is not an easy watch, but it does make one even more appreciative of not having to live out on the streets. It has a Breaking Bad type of trajectory (although Carlos starts here already being affected by his environment that he’s grown up in) because the events mentioned are all things meant to toughen Carlos up.

Cinema lets us see things from different perspectives, and while not fun or pleasant, Un Varón (A Male) certainly does that through fine direction and cast. The movie is not only about what it means to be a man but a man in a ghetto who is just trying to survive.

Un Varón (A Male) (2022)

Directed and Written: Fabian Hernández

Starring: Dilan Felipe Ramirez Espitia, Juanita Carrillo Ortiz, Jhonathan Steven Rodríguez, Jesus Alberto Cuero, Diego Alexander Mayorga, etc.

Movie score: 6/10

Un Varón (A Male) Image

"…Espitia expertly captures the essence of someone struggling..."

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