The titular protagonist of Das de Santiago ("Days of Santiago"), an intense and gripping debut feature from Peruvian filmmaker Josue Mendez, is a world-weary war veteran at the relatively young age of 23. He belongs to what has been described as Perus "lost generation," referencing youths who were recruited to strengthen the military during the 90s under President Alberto Fujimori. Like many others, Santiago (Pietro Sibille) became a man and much more while fighting drug lords, guerrillas (the "Shining Path" movement), or the Ecuadorian army from the north. But the power granted to them ultimately took its toll, and now Santiago and his fellow surviving comrades arent quite able to comprehend the atrocities that were committed during their time together. Yet, they miss the discipline, the order, the mission.
Early on in the film, Mendez expertly employs both grainy b&w and color stock to distinguish his protagonists psychological terrain as he tries to adjust to the life back home in the economically challenged Peruvian capital of Lima. Along with battling his own demons, Santiago now also has to endure a distanced wife and a mostly indifferent family, not to mention the realities of having no educational background. He eventually starts a cab service, which not only helps him to go to school, but also enables him to associate with others, especially young woman who often pursue a protector in his mature demeanor, not realizing that he may not even be capable of saving himself. (It's clear that Mendez is well familiar with Scorseses 1976 classic, Taxi Driver).
Das de Santiago is important yet explosive stuff -- so the 28-year-old filmmaker deserves much credit for handling it for the most part with care. It's a bit disappointing, however, that his aforementioned methods to depict Santiagos struggles ultimately resort to nothing more than stylistic tics. But the authenticity of Sibilles performance and the depicted milieu are among the reasons why the film, which was Perus nominee in the foreign-language category for 2005 Academy Awards, "leaves a singularly raw impression of having spent time inside someones sweaty, ill-fitting skin" (Village Voice).
*The film is now available on DVD in the U.S.