Updated: Mar 1, 2020
Beyond the music and dance moves, We Are The Heat is a story of survival and doing that which makes you feel the most alive in a world where pain and death are certain.
The latest drama/action film distributed by Epic Pictures Group, We Are The Heat (Somos Calentura in native Colombian) tells the tale of three friends who use dance and music to survive life in poverty and corruption in their city, Buenaventura, Colombia. The first couple of minutes of the film already prepare you somewhat for its tone: main character Harvey is on a ship that's North America bound with other undocumented persons to find work; when the authorities start chasing down the ship, the White Latinx captains force all undocumented persons to jump ship, calling Harvey a n*@#$r as they force him to jump overboard. After washing up ashore, a shirtless and barefoot Harvey makes his way through the city and returns to the home he shares with his girlfriend Luzmar and their infant chilld. As the heart of the film, Harvey's "real world" responsibilities, i.e. supporting his family, comes into conflict with his exceptional dancing skills and being in a group with his childhood friends Freddy, Calenito, and Baby, Freddy's younger DJ brother. This real world responsibilities vs creative expression struggle is the underlying theme of the movie.
Directed by Jorge Navas, We Are The Heat isn't wary of tackling hard-hitting issues in human life; moreso than not, this film functions as social commentary showing how life for another group of Black people within the diaspora is, from poverty, to corruption within the police department, to racism perpetrated by White Latinxs towards Afro Latinx, to the drug trade, to the energizing scene of Salsa Choque, a fusion of Hip-Hop and Salsa in Colombia. Afro Latinx folks live lives of doing what they can to make it, and taking their reprieve via music and dancing.
Duván Arizala gives a powerful performance as Harvey, the gifted dancer desperate to make a way to support his family. You see how he channels his frustration and desperation with every dance movement his body makes. You empathize with him as he tiptoes through tough choices he makes to get money, even at the cost of putting himself in danger with the local drug dealer (and also an exceptional dancer) Ribok. Ribok offers Harvey a job if he sells out his group with Freddy and Caliento, Buenaventura Mon Amor, allowing Ribok and his group to win. Harvey throws his part in the dance match, allowing Ribok and his group to advance in a dancing concert and angering Freddy. It leads to a confrontation and a fight followed by reconciliation not too long after.
While Harvey is at the heart of the film's story, the narrative doesn't allow the viewer to forget the rest of the ensemble cast, as everything is woven together, from Freddy trying to get his ex-girlfriend Lindsay away from Ribok and other choices he make that have serious consequences down the line, to Caliento being used and abused by the racist and corrupt White Latinx police officer, to LuzMar functioning as Harvey's conscience, to Freddy and Baby's mother chastising them for focusing more on making music for dancing than getting a job and studying. The movie doesn't necessarily function as a social realism piece as much as focus on the depth and motivations of each of the characters, and showcase a rich and dulcet genre of music and dance.
We Are The Heat is an impressive foreign film completely unafraid to show the harsh realities of life while showing the importance of friends and family, how culture brings people closer, Black people in relationships, good & bad ones, and showcasing the hidden gem of Salsa Choque. Watching the film reminds me of Ryan Coogler's experience when he visited the African continent while making "Black Panther": in the end, regardless of where we are, certain aspects of our culture are identical, enabling us to empathize with each other, regardless of where in the diaspora we are.
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