With the likes of Rare Exports and Tokyo Godfathers becoming cult classics around this time of year, and after a handful have cropped up in the past, this year’s Alternative Christmas Film Advent Calendar focuses solely on foreign language/ non-English Christmas films. Some simply less heard of around the world, and in some cases their home country, while others aren’t deeply rooted in the season. And so, via this year’s Calendar, let’s go abroad for this year’s Christmas vacation.
Christmas is often pointed out as a time when we think about those less fortunate, and with that come conversations and pieces about the class divide. It’s this theme which 2014 Colombian drama Gente de Bien (translating to Good People) runs with as struggling father and son Gabriel (Carlos Fernando Pérez) and Eric (Brayan Santamarià) find themselves taken in by a rich family in the build up to Christmas. However, the time of goodwill provides the pair with a strong sense of alienation over anything else.
The film opens with Eric’s mother saying goodbye to her son, insisting it’s only temporary, as for the moment she can’t afford to house the both of them while she’s looking for work. For the rest of the film we see Eric’s father trying to create a bond with his son, while they both find themselves out of their depth in the house of a wealthy family. They’ve been taken in over the Christmas period, whilst Gabriel completes carpentry work he’s been doing, by matriarch Maria (Alejandra Borrero).
Yet, despite being welcomed in the pair constantly find themselves pushed to the sidelines at almost every gathering. A key image used across many posters for the film is of three boys ready to jump into the pool in front of them with Eric some distance away, huddled up to himself, isolated and seemingly unsure as to what to do. There’s initial fascination with the phones and game consoles that the more upper-class kids have, but it soon transforms into hints of jealously via his isolation and feeling out-of-place, pushed away by Maria’s family, yet still allowed to stay in the walls of whichever residence/ building they happen to be in.
As Christmas nears and the decorations go up the lavish glows of lights which flood not just the household but the garden too opposes the washed-out greys of the cramped apartment the father and son otherwise stay in when not out working. Co-writer (alongside Virginie Legeay and Catherine Paillé) and director Franco Lolli establishes the ideas of class struggle, divide and contrast very early on; the rapidly approaching festive celebrations increase this creating a coldness under the warmth of the South American sun. Playing with seemingly universal themes frequently brought up around Christmas, even A Christmas Carol deal with such ideas to some extent, Gente de Bien isn’t a film to watch to feel joyous. It certainly digs in to the definition of ‘alternative’ within the calendar, but much like yesterday’s film uses the Christmas setting to push the themes and ideas that bit further.
Gente de Bien can be watched in the following places:
iTunes/ Apple TV
To see where else it might be available to buy, rent or stream, particularly in your country, it’s well worth checking JustWatch.