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FIFDH 2022

Review: Red Jungle

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- In this animated oddity by Juan José Lozano and Zoltán Horváth, Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness meets You’ve Got Mail

Review: Red Jungle
Vera Mercado, Alvaro Bayona and Patricia Tamayo in Red Jungle

Inspired by the life and times of Raúl Reyes, guerrilla group FARC’s second-in-command who was killed by the Colombian military in 2008, Juan José Lozano and Zoltán Horváth’s Swiss-French film Red Jungle, which has screened at FIFDH in Geneva, feels like yet another Heart of Darkness-tinged tale. Once again, a man is blinded by his power, creating his own little realm far away from the world. Once again, he slowly starts to lose his grip on reality, as if his sanity were being devoured by the surrounding jungle. But crucially, it’s also inspired by over 11,000 emails found after his death.

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The decision to incorporate them, and to such an extent, is odd – at one point in the film, Reyes (Alvaro Bayona) feels more invested in these virtual conversations with the conflict’s top players (which he ends with “Revolutionary regards”) than in the reality of his community. That’s where he expresses his own, much more positive, take on the situation, where he can paint himself as a stable leader. He becomes addicted to it, one could say, and when his laptop breaks, he is more upset by that than by the death of the “comrade” who was carrying it on his back. It’s not about the emails themselves, overloaded with details to the point where it becomes dull; it’s about the lies that humans keep telling each other, over and over, and it’s only the methods that change. Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, opening up online in You’ve Got Mail, got it all wrong.

In another interesting, if also confusing, move, the directors opted for mixed animation. It starts to make sense only later on, when it serves to express the growing mistrust among the group, as well as their exhaustion and perhaps insanity. Animation allows you to transcend worlds more easily, and as Reyes weakens, his mind starts to wander. Different techniques illustrate dream sequences or his delusions of grandeur, but it also makes Red Jungle a bit easier to follow. Several scenes, from a snake munching on a beloved dog to some furious maggot-stabbing, could be squirm-inducing if shown without those blissfully blurred edges. That being said, they are still bound to discourage some viewers.

“Everything in this film is true, or almost,” it is announced, which is fair. Although it took place relatively recently, the jungle sure kept some of these people’s secrets intact. But there is so much to unpack that it becomes tiresome in the end, as people cling to the idea of a revolution while also admitting that some of it doesn’t work. There is a whole part devoted to one woman complaining about another comrade’s sexual assaults, only to hear, “It’s normal that the men would desire us.” Even Reyes tends to surround himself with trusted women, expecting them to openly admire him sometimes. If there was hope for creating different gender dynamics, it failed, and while Lozano and Horváth open with scenes of idyllic joy, they end with the pouring rain.

It would be difficult to say what exactly is the point of this story – is it a takedown of a controversial figure or a look at yet another case when someone’s noble ideals ended up collapsing into brutality? Regardless of that, it works best when focusing on tiny details, little observations that don’t even need to be spelled out. When betrayal enters their already fractured universe, Reyes tells his right hand/lover Gloria (Vera Mercado) to “fix this shit” while he calmly pops bubble wrap instead. For that scene alone, it’s worth seeing this film.

Red Jungle is a Swiss-French co-production staged by Intermezzo Films, Nadasdy Film and Dolce Vita Films. Its world sales are handled by Urban Distribution International, while its French distribution is by New Story and the Swiss by Praesens Film AG.

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