El arriero is a dramatic narrative feature film set against the seamy world of drug smuggling. However, at the heart of the story is a love triangle. The central character, Ancízar (Julián Díaz) loves two women, and can’t bear to part with either. That tension eventually leads to a betrayal. By putting Ancízar’s love problems at the center of the story, the film is scoffing at the serious narcotrafficking, a sensitive subject in Colombia.
“I am not a drug dealer; I’m a cocaine exporter, which is very different,” says Ancízar giving the audience a revealing glimpse of his personality.
Writer-director Guillermo Calle loosely based the script for El arriero on a short story from the book “Rebusque Mayor,” by the Colombian sociologist Alfredo Molano. The book is a collection of tales that Molano heard in Colombian prisons.
“I liked the story very much because it’s filled with irony and black humor,” says Calle. “I felt free to add new characters and situations to enhance the drama. Also, the story takes place in Colombia and Spain, which gave the story an international flavor. I chose Barranquilla, on the Atlantic side of Colombia, because I was looking for the strong contrast between the rhythm and color of the Caribbean and the cosmopolitan character of Madrid.”
Thirty years ago, Calle was a 30-year-old lawyer and movie buff who changed the course of his life and became a filmmaker. Most of his credits are as a producer. In the 1980s, he worked on 18 films in the 16 mm format. Subsequently, a play he directed was filmed for television, leading to a long-running series of more than 180 episodes. He was also part of the team that made La Gente de la Universal, a 1990s black comedy that is an icon of Colombian cinema.
Moreno recalls: “When we were on the location scout, we had a clear vision of using long telephoto lenses in order to compress the image a bit, adding blurriness and more critical focus, with the goal of breaking the images down somewhat. Color wise, we didn’t intervene with the locations, instead going with the pastels that already existed in many situations. Our goal with the lighting was to realistically re-create the existing atmosphere on film.”
Moreno recommended the Super 16 film format over HD video capture. “I insisted to Guillermo that we not waste the magic of celluloid,” he says. “I knew with film that we could expose and capture more real images. That turned out to be a wise decision.”
In most daylight situations, Moreno chose KODAK VISION2 200T Color Negative Film 7217. “I knew that negative would allow me to work comfortably, with good latitude and true color response,” says Moreno. “I chose to work at a stop that kept some depth of field in the images.”
For night sequences and some low-light interiors, the film stock was KODAK VISION3 500T Color Negative Film 7219. “I personally love this film stock,” Moreno says. “It has a softness with great latitude. The color rendition is virtually equal to the real tones, and the grain is almost invisible.”
The lightweight Super 16 cameras also lent themselves to the subjective style that Calle imagined. In one representative scene, Ancízar meets one of his lovers in a busy street in Madrid. The camera and the actors are always moving, and the audience feels immersed in the shifting, anonymous crowd.
“Being at the actual locations where events happened, I decided that the camera should be with the characters, narrating events through the images.
I wanted to put the camera inside the situations they face, whether they are dark and sordid or romantic and poetic,” says Calle.
Postproduction, including a digital intermediate, was handled at Cinecolor Lab in Argentina, which is accredited by the KODAK IMAGECARE Program.
El arriero went on to success at the box office and acclaim on the festival circuit, including a nomination for best picture at the Cartagena Film Festival.
“El arriero is my feature directing debut at age 60,” says Calle. “I think the urge to make films comes from a vital need to express myself, to tell stories that need to be told.”
Cinematographer Alejandro Moreno grew up in a cinematographer’s family. His father Adriano Moreno (Clandestinos, Un paraíso bajo las estrellas) is a well-known figure in Colombia’s production community. “He guided me through his great journey toward the lighting, and taught me about creating images and filmmaking,” says the younger Moreno.
El arriero was filmed in Bogotá and Barranquilla, Colombia, as well as Madrid, Spain. Calle and Moreno decided that a realistic, documentary visual style suited the material. They often alluded to a 2003 Spanish feature film called November, which was directed by Achero Mañas and photographed by Juan Carlos Gómez.