Film Review: Porfirio

Insider view of would-be terrorist activity quietly but forcefully packs a punch.

Porfirio concerns the remarkable story of “the Air Pirate,” a Colombian man with leg paralysis who hijacked a plane to Bogotá in 2005. The surprise is that director Alejandro Landes uses the man himself in his cinematic recreation and tells the story from his point of view. Good word of mouth should boost the success of this unusual film.

Inspired after reading the newspaper headline “Paralyzed Man in Diapers Hijacks Plane to Bogota,” Landes went on a mission to locate Porfirio Ramirez Aldana and ask him to play himself in a movie about the events leading up to his infamous act. Landes not only found Porfirio (in prison) but worked with him for several years to develop the scenario and shoot the film once he was released.

Landes’ approach is not to announce or even hint at the hijacking to come during most of the first half of the the film. Instead, he details in minute fashion the day-to-day agony of a disagreeable man struggling to regain his dignity following a police shooting that left him paralyzed from the waist down. We see Porfirio, a formerly wealthy farmer and rancher, trying to maneuver around his small, squalid Colombian home. His only means of income seems to be renting out his cell-phone. His son (played by Jarlisson Ramirez, Porfirio’s real-life youngest son) helps his father with chores while his neighbor (Yor Jasbleidy Santos) provides comfort and occasional sex.

Only in the second half of the film do we begin to gather that Porfirio is trying to regain his strength while plotting revenge against the government that refused to compensate him for his injured condition. The climax of the film restages his attempt to hijack the plane.

By giving us so little information up-front, Landes depends on our lack of knowledge of the real-life story in order to allow us to understand the mind of a “bad guy” and the causality of societal actions. Landes and cinematographer Thimios Bakatakis film most scenes in medium or distant static shots (a common technique in recent art films), keeping us from any excessive or maudlin sympathy for Porfirio (there is also no manipulative music score). But the cool detachment is just right: We are meant to observe and gain an awareness about the man, his condition, and the reasons for his quest; we are not meant to condone dangerous, criminal acts.

Landes’ deceptively simple method is matched by his anti-hero’s stoic, determined attitude—wonderfully articulated by Porfirio. The final scene of him singing to the viewer makes the perfect coda.

The only unfortunate aspect of Porfirio is its neglect of the points of view of the son and neighbor. It is particularly sad to see the young woman in such a traditionally misogynist role of caretaking female who allows herself to be used as a sex object (even if the sex scenes give The Sessions a run for its money as the least erotic ever on screen). In these moments, the lack of empathy on the filmmaker’s part is questionable. Otherwise, Porfirio is an accomplished work by a relatively new filmmaker.