The surroundings, atmosphere and language are reasons to have assumptions that writer/director Tom Sanchez’s comedy drama, La Navaja De Don Juan (The Knife of Don Juan), may be about immigration, poverty or drug cartels because of its location in Peru. And yet his film tells an entirely different story, one that could just as easily take place in the U.S. suburbs.
La Navaja De Don Juan is a story that focuses on two brothers who fight, argue and annoy each other like any siblings would, but the common ground that they share is the knife that has been a family keepsake for generations. Being the brothers that they are, Mario (Rodrigo Viaggio) the eldest and Walter (Juan Carlos Montoya), the youngest challenge each other to an arm wrestling match. What initially starts off as a “I get to take your girl” challenge quickly changes to “I’m going to be the owner of the knife.”
The film followed several themes that kept my interest as a viewer. There was a sense of honor, manliness and brotherhood. Like most teenage boys, Mario and Walter had sex, debauchery and adventure on their minds. As a viewer, I had a flashback of Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna’s chemistry and characters in Y Tu Mamá También. It wasn’t until their contrasting personalities that possessed some of the same attributes in men that I knew this film would be different.
The film combines the two macho, or manliest, qualities that most young boys are taught as a gesture that they’ve reached manhood: being a womanizer and fighter. Mario’s charisma and Walter’s hot-headed personality bring their relationship as brothers closer and it’s also what tears them a part. The idea of what it means to be a man was captured well by Sanchez in sense that “being a man” doesn’t necessarily mean having 10 girls and fighting 10 guys to prove it.
The actors almost always delivered their lines perfectly. As a viewer, their arguing was realistic in a sense that siblings, no matter the size of the problem, get on each other’s nerves and yet when they’re in trouble, they have each other’s backs. As a viewer, the sibling rivalry was almost irritating to watch, but it was mostly because a sense of self-reflection and recognition of the silly arguments hit close to home.
La navaja, the knife, roughly acts as Mario and Walter’s guidance and symbol of their father’s honor. The knife is an object that is cherished as if it is a family member. When the two brothers face trouble, the knife seems to almost always make an appearance as if it is a reminder of their father’s dignity and masculinity. Surprisingly, the knife is what causes Mario and Walter to argue and yet it’s also what strengthens their relationship.
As a viewer, I was captured by the adventure the brothers’ experience. They attend a party, which is relatable in many countries. They fight like most siblings do in most countries. They love each other like most family members love each other in most countries. Whilst it would be a lovely story if they just fought and made up that isn’t the case. A sense of family and bondage is subconsciously and consciously displayed in the film.
Sanchez’s first feature directorial film was unique. As a viewer, it was nice to finally see an international film that told a story about a day in the life of a person who lives in a third world country as a opposed to seeing a film about immigration, poverty or drug cartels. The film takes place in Lima, Peru and during that 110 mins, I was lost in the world of Lima.
The film could have easily been a typical film about two brothers who join a gang in order to stay true to manhood. Instead, a realistic, humble approach made the film relatable. The direct lines and natural reactions the actors gave added truth to the story about two siblings. The setting gave the film a different edge and angle on the living in Lima, Peru, as opposed to the preconceived assumptions about living in a third world country.
La Navaja De Don Juan screened at the 2013 Cine Las Americas Film Festival. Watch the official trailer below.