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Laura Tobón Ochoa and David Escallón Orrego in Los días de la Ballena (Days of the Whale) (2020), dir. Catalina Arroyave Restrepo (all images courtesy Cinema Tropical)

At a time when so much feels out of our control, Catalina Arroyave Restrepo’s feature debut Los días de la Ballena (Days of the Whale) feels like a rebellion against hopelessness. Cristina (Laura Tobón Ochoa) and Simon (David Escallón Orrego) — two young graffiti artists in Medellín, Colombia — are madly in love with each other and their work. Part of an art collective run by Lucas (Carlos Fonnegra), the two become swept up in anti-gang protests. An ever-escalating turf war inspires Cristina and Simon’s to dream up their greatest collaborative work yet — a tribute to Cristina’s mother, a journalist who fled Colombia after being targeted by gang members.

Throughout, Arroyave Restrepo captures the youthful zeal of her two main characters’ love and creativity, while also acknowledging that many who perpetuate the cycle of violence they live with are in fact former classmates — kids who grew up playing together and now stand ready to tear each other down. Flashes of magical realism punctuate the film, as a real-life whale (an animal associated with Cristina’s mother) disrupts the urban environment.

Carlos Fonnegra in Los días de la Ballena (Days of the Whale) (2020), dir. Catalina Arroyave Restrepo (all images courtesy Cinema Tropical)

For the artists, the collective’s home base is not just a haven for creativity, but a place to develop their respective voices, ones even Lucas can’t reign in. He fears their newfound independence and anger against the system will lead to retribution. Ultimately, he’s right — power rarely cedes easily. But even when violence looms, art offers the pair an ability to fight back, making Los días de la ballena (Days of the Whale) an empowering testament to the need for self-expression.

Los días de la ballena (Days of the Whale) (2020), dir. Catalina Arroyave Restrepo is now streaming in virtual cinemas

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Monica Castillo

Monica Castillo is a writer and critic based in New York City. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Village Voice, RogerEbert.com, Remezcla, the Guardian,...