Days of the Whale (2019): a great directorial debut

Director  Catalina Arroyave Restrepo kicks her way into the film world with her debut, Days of the Whale (2019). This film is visually stunning, with a raw naturalism that draws so much from the performances of its leads that it makes the story impossible to turn away from. Art as a tool to fight oppression is one theme that resonates even more right now then it did when the film was created – but it is a universal truth that makes the film feel timeless. 

Cristina (Laura Tobón Ochoa) has stayed in Medellín, Colombia, even though her journalist mother has fled for her own safety. Cris and her friend Simon (David Escallón Orrego) are doing their part to fight the gang that rules the city through the use of graffiti and their art. As they grow more daring, the danger becomes more apparent…but it pushes them closer together. 

Ochoa and Orrego are very natural in this movie. They both feel real, and as though we are just spying on their lives. Cris is torn between her desire to fight for what is right, but also wanting to stay safe. It’s a relatable stance. Seeing injustice and knowing something needs to change, but being afraid to risk your own life in order to fight. Everything Cris is going through feels too familiar with the world we find ourselves in right now…yet, there is a hope that can be taken from Cris and Simon’s actions. 

Restrepo clearly did her homework. This is a film that emphasizes show-don’t-tell and leaves many of the details for the audience to piece together. It’s not hard to do, but she doesn’t spoon-feed you the context. Active engagement is required but easy to provide, as she utilizes her cinematography to craft the story in compelling ways. Additionally, the scenes of them spraying their artwork on the walls are so gorgeous and inspiring. Add in the authentic regional soundtrack, and it’s easy to find yourself lost in the world of Cris and Simon. 

Days of the Whale is definitely a film you should check out. Even if you are afraid of subtitles, this film does a great job of balancing dialogue with visuals so you won’t have to race to keep up with what’s happening. Days of the Whale earns the Must See rating.

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