Also known as Pólvora en el corazón, Gunpowder Heart is a raw and angry film from Guatemala.
Set (and filmed in) Guatemala City, Gunpowder Heart tells the story of two girlfriends. Claudia (Andrea Henry) is the calmer of the two and works at a call center, where she says that she spends almost all of her time talking to “gringos.” Maria (Vanessa Hernandez) is the more emotional of the two. Whereas Claudia always seems to be holding back, Maria is in constant motion. She lives in a dilapidated house with her mother.
One night, when Claudia and Maria go to a local carnival, Maria reveals to Claudia that she’s carrying a gun for their protection. From what we’ve seen of Guatemala City, it seems like Maria has a point. The streets — or at least, the streets in the neighborhoods in which this film takes place — are filthy. The walls are covered in graffiti. The police who patrol those streets often appear to be more dangerous and menacing than the criminals from which they’re supposed to be providing protection. From the minute that we see Claudia riding her motorcycle through the streets of the city, there’s an ominous atmosphere of unease that just grows heavier and heavier as the film progresses.
However, Claudia does not want Maria to carry a gun and, when Maria isn’t looking, Claudia takes the gun and hides it from her. Later that night, as they leave the carnival, Maria and Claudia are attacked by three men who force the girls to strip and then sexually taunt and abuse them. It’s only the arrival of a clueless security guard that gives Claudia and Maria the chance to escape.
Angry that she didn’t have a weapon to protect herself, Maria manages to find the gun. Maria is determined to use that gun to get revenge. However, it turns out that getting revenge is not as easy as it may appear to be in the movies. Maria’s plan is a messy and disorganized one and Claudia finds herself torn between her desire for vengeance and her knowledge that there’s no way things are going to end well. Perhaps not surprisingly, it all leads to disaster and tragedy.
As I said at the start of this review, Gunpowder Heart is a raw and angry film, one that seems to be conflicted about whether or not to embrace Maria’s fury or to tolerate Claudia’s caution. (That’s a conflict that many in the audience will share as well.) Using the techniques of cinéma vérité, Gunpowder Heart put you right in the middle of Maria and Claudia’s shared existence. The camera never stops moving, perfectly mirroring not only the anxiety of their lives but also the anxiety of those of us watching the two of them. Throughout the film, Maria talks about leaving Guatemala. She says that she wants to go to Europe and then later to America. But, ultimately, there is no easy escape from the reality of what it means to be a woman (especially a woman who identifies as being queer) in a society controlled by violent and entitled men.
It’s a rough film and probably one that won’t appeal to everyone. By refusing to come down firmly on the side of either Maria or Claudia, the film will probably alienate those who like their films to have a clear cut point of view. As some reviewers have pointed out, we don’t learn much about who Maria and Claudia were before that night but I would argue that who they were before doesn’t matter. From the moment that they’re assaulted outside of the carnival, Maria and Claudia’s old life ends and their new one begins.
Blessed with two brave and outstanding lead performances from Andrea Henry and Vanessa Hernandez, Gunpowder Heart is a powerful and anxiety-filled film. It’s currently available to be viewed, for a limited time, on Prime.