Octubre frequently makes a show of Peru’s religious fervor, but why religion matters so much to the film’s characters (or doesn’t), and how the pageantry of spiritual worship connects with the story’s central narrative, remains uncertain. But like Amat Escalante’s Sangre, Octubre‘s tony aesthetic at least makes clear that directors Daniel and Diego Vega are fixated, like obsessive compulsives, on the style—if not the substance—of Carlos Reygadas’s Battle in Heaven.
The story, about a dour, prostitute-obsessed moneylender who hires his next-door neighbor to take care of the newborn he never knew he fathered, is scarcely deadpan, but the filmmaker brothers do reveal an affinity to the cinema of Aki Kaurismäki though a series of comic bits that make a joke of Clemente’s (Bruno Odar) ornery people skills. While distracted by the needs of his young daughter, Clemente fails to notice that a client pays for some jewelry using counterfeit money and spends the duration of the film trying to unload a 200 sol note on prostitutes, a taxi driver, even a local pharmacist. For Clemente, essentially a Latin American Silas Marner, his experience is practically an existential one.
Octubre is a film about currency, but how money binds people to each other and how it enslaves them aren’t ideas the Vargas brothers seriously work out, even if they do find poetry in the struggle of Don Fico (Carlos Gassols) using money lent to him by Clemente to sneak his ailing wife out of a hospital. And if the filmmakers resist the easy outcome of redeeming Clemente through his relationship to his daughter, if the man, unlike Marcos in Battle in Heaven, isn’t making penance at the end of film when he navigates through sea of worshippers, what’s he doing then exactly?
If the point of Octubre is that man can’t turn his back on religion, it’s not one that matters—or barely scans—given that Clemente’s religious convictions, or lack thereof, remain as inexplicable to us as the righteous Sofia (Gabriela Velásquez) trying to get it on with Clemente after he terminates her position as his daughter’s nanny. Though it shows promise in parts, Octubre, like Sangre before it, is ultimately a blasé work of social observation, a trifle of a story with fuzzy characters and weak political, social, and moral dimensions, notable only for its ostentatious framing of its proletarian characters’ lives using the style of more accomplished filmmakers. False idol indeed.