Steevens Benjamin, Alfredo Castro, Blanca Lewin, Gaston Salgado, Junior Valcin, Ero Pantoja, Daniel Antivilo
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… an unflinching depiction of racial abuse that cuts razor-sharp.
To be treated as less than human is arguably the greatest injustice someone can experience. For the many Haitian immigrants who relocate to Chile in pursuit of better living conditions, it is a heartbreaking reality, one that is told with confronting unease in Chilean drama, Perro Bomba.
Racism is just as much a part of Haitian-born Steevens’ (Steevens Benjamin) daily routine as his commute to work. If the blatant racism from Steevens’ employer – a man who exploits immigrants for cheap labour – didn’t affirm his feelings of displacency, the racist graffiti occupying the Santiago streets does nothing to make him feel welcome.
Perro Bomba makes it clear early on that it is unwilling to sugar-coat its depiction of the Haitian immigrant experience, shining a spotlight on denigration in an ulcer-inducing, emotional gut-punch of a film.
It is not enough for director Juan Cáceres to capture the suffering afforded to Steevens based on his ethnicity. Racism shows no mercy. To follow Steevens’ descent from wide-eyed optimist to homelessness speaks to the tragic experiences of many immigrants of colour; something that Cáceres understands and uses to incite disgust in the viewer.
Scenes are broken up with footage of music and dancing, momentarily dimming the sombre mood of Perro Bomba by showcasing the persevering spirit of the Haitian-Latin cultures.
The creative license taken by Perro Bomba to use dogs as symbolism for immigrant animosity is a tricky endeavour. In the hands of a lesser director than Cáceres, it would risk offensively portraying immigrants as wild. However, it is one that Perro Bomba successfully executes with a sensitive touch, revealing the mounting trepidation felt by immigrants (only so many times can a dog be flicked on the head before it bites back) and their continued exposure to inhumane treatment.
Perro Bomba explores the destructive potential of xenophobia through the eyes of those at the receiving end; the Haitian community. They see the behaviours of any Haitian as capable of negatively impacting the livelihoods of the collective. Their mounting pressure to present as non-threatening burdens them with paralysing anxiety that showcases Perro Bomba’s complex understanding of the pernicious nature of racial discrimination.
If sacrificing your home, family, friends and culture was not enough, the Haitians at the centre of Perro Bomba are at risk of doing this twice in their pursuit of refuge in Chile. Their subjection to abuse as a cruel term of occupancy is a contract that no one should sign (nor should they be exposed to), with the film providing an unflinching depiction of racial abuse that cuts razor-sharp.