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SXSW 2020

Review: Gunpowder Heart

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- It’s revenge for beginners in Camila Urrutia’s film, now being shown online as part of the SXSW 2020 Film Festival Collection

Review: Gunpowder Heart
Vanessa Hernández and Andrea Henry in Gunpowder Heart

Following its last-minute cancellation due to the pandemic, SXSW still made sure that at least some of its orphaned titles would be seen, announcing the launch of the Prime Video Presents the SXSW 2020 Film Festival Collection: an online event that will run from 27 April to 6 May. Camila Urrutia’s Gunpowder Heart [+see also:
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is one of the 39 films benefiting from such treatment and is all the better for it – while occasionally coming apart at the seams, it does have energy to spare and brings a whiff of awkward authenticity to the familiar narrative.

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It’s only familiar at the beginning, though, as two girls, already romantically involved, are attacked one night by three men. The assailants flee, scared away, but Maria and Claudia (Vanessa Hernández and Andrea Henry, the latter all pink hair and men’s underwear) can’t just dust themselves off and go back to their lives. Despite all the signs that it’s that tricky rape-revenge territory all over again, Urrutia is good at showing how differently people respond to trauma, even one they happen to have shared – while one just wants to forget and move on, the other, seemingly more fragile, wants to see these men punished, and she has a gun at her disposal, too. She just needs to learn how to use it first.

Indeed, the single best thing about Gunpowder Heart is that its heroines don’t really have time for “training montages” and coming back armed and fabulous, confident in each step taken as a newly formed angel of vengeance. Their reaction is immediate – it comes from the gut and, as such, is damned messy. They yell, they run around, they make mistakes, and they are scared out of their minds, still, and no “basic steps for firearm cleaning” tutorial is likely to change that any time soon. Not to mention that a relationship, shown as tender if slightly one-sided, slowly begins to crack as they appear utterly unable to give each other what they need most, be it emotional support or just good, old-fashioned protection. “If we are going to do something, we are going to do it together and we are going to do it right,” says one. But figuring out the logistics is another matter.

There are some observations here that, even as the acting hits an odd, false note, are uncomfortable in their truth – like seeing a victim suddenly freeze, petrified, as the perpetrators are revealed to be playing pool just beside her, without a care in the world. Girls just want to have fun, like anywhere else on the planet, but all it takes is one thoughtless moment, one swerve in the wrong direction, and it all comes falling down, even though this pair is more than aware of the danger perpetually lurking somewhere around the dark corners. It’s a peril that you have to confront on your own or not at all, actually, as the local police station has run out of paper, and “without paper, we can’t take your complaint”. It seems like peroxided philosopher Harley Quinn was right all along: psychologically speaking, vengeance rarely brings the catharsis we hope for.

Gunpowder Heart was produced by Inés Nofuentes, and the Spanish and Guatemalan branches of Curuxa Cinema. Its sales are handled by Latido Films.

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