By Mark Saldana
Rating: 4 (Out of 4 Stars)
This festival entry from Colombia turned out to be my favorite film of the ones I saw at Cine Las Americas this year. It also just so happens that this movie won both the audience and jury awards for Best Narrative Feature. So just don’t take my word for it, but Mateo truly is a lovely and outstanding coming of age film where the title character, played wonderfully by the talented Carlos Hernandez.
At the young and impressionable age of 16, Mateo has already headed down the wrong path by collecting extortion money for his crime boss uncle Walter (Samuel Lazcano). As punishment for poor performance is school, Mateo is forced to join a local theater group headed by the neighborhood pastor (Felipe Botero). Concerned about the anti-syndicate sentiment promoted by the pastor, Walter takes advantage of this opportunity and charges Mateo with the responsibility of spying on the priest and the activities of the theater group. As Mateo becomes more involved with the group, the more fond he becomes with acting and with his teacher and classmates. This leads to a moral dilemma as he wishes to do the right thing, but fears for the safety of his mother Made (Myriam Gutierrez), his new friends, and himself.
Written by Adriana Arjona and Maria Gamboa and directed by Gamboa, Mateo is an outstanding film that addresses real life problems in Colombia and puts a hopeful spin on these issues. With solid writing, direction and superb performances by the cast, this film really won my heart at the festival this year. I happily applauded when I heard the announcement that Mateo had won both the audience and jury awards. I hope that praise and positive buzz for this film circulates globally as I would love to see it reach the masses.