When a gun is introduced in a film, the expectation is that it will, sooner or later, be fired. This tension is the center around which the story of Camila Urrutia’s first feature Gunpowder Heart revolves. Shaped from the director’s own personal experiences growing up as a queer woman in Guatemala City, it begins with 22 year old Maria (Vanessa Hernandez) showing off her new gun to her girlfriend Claudia (Andrea Henry), who, like the audience, is immediately filled with dread. When one night the girls are aggressed by a group of local men, Maria finds a target for her weapon, and Claudia must decide whether to help her seek revenge.
Gunpowder Heart takes the epic revenge drama (Tarantino’s Kill Bill, Park Chan-Wook’s Revenge Trilogy) and adapts it to the setting of Guatemala City, creating an intimate, down-tempo slant on the genre that matches with the long, hot days and peeling decay of the place. Inspired by the work of the Dardenne Brothers and experienced in making feminist documentary shorts (“Actores de Cambio”, “Todos Somos Barillas”) Urrutia chooses to shoot in real locations using natural light, first time actors, and a handheld camera. Her past as a documentarian shows in her commitment to faithfully reflecting real-world realities and themes of gender violence, women’s emancipation, and sexual diversity. As the film progresses and Maria talks first of running away to Europe, then to America, her vendetta reveals itself to be as much against her aggressors as the society she lives in, the ever-present gun seemingly the only available tool to take control and change her situation. While Gunpowder Heart meanders more than other action-based revenge plots, the characters’ unspoken thoughts and frustrations give an order to the story, and thematic resonance to a seemingly inevitable ending.