I just witnessed the world premiere of The Porcelain Horse from Ecuadorian director Javier Andrade. It was heavy, cynically humorous, and left a filmy feeling on my skin, as though the 35 mm reel was extracted from the center console of a dirty drug running hatchback. I didn't "like" the film, the way people like strawberry ice cream. But I did "appreciate" that the piece successfully conveyed the hollow despair of drug addiction. In a question and answer session at the film’s close, the director put words to the addict mindset he strove to illustrate: “It’s okay if she falls in love with someone else, or if dad dies. As long as I have that one thing, [freebase cocaine,] I’m okay, because nothing else matters at all.”Here's the plot: Over the course of a decade, two brothers, Paco (Francisco Savinovich) and Luis (Victor Arauz), have pawned many of their wealthy parents’ possessions in order to supply themselves with their next freebase high. (After the show, the cast and director explained that freebasing is as much a rite of passage in Ecuador as smoking weed is in the states.) Paco, the older brother who also narrates the film, plays innocent and hides behind his brother, who is the more cavalier criminal of the two. But everyone knows Paco benefits equally from the drugs the pawned items buy.
During a particularly frantic low, loco Luis concludes that the next logical thing to do is to steal their parents’ prized possession. You guessed it: the porcelain horse. The fiending Luis is like a whirling dervish, and the fight for the horse has dire and immediate consequences for the already suffering family. Despite this, the brothers pawn the collectible for a shameful fraction of its value.Meanwhile, Paco is shacked up with Lucia (Leovanna Orlandini), the gorgeous girl he’s loved since high school, who is married and has a five-year-old son. Unfulfilled in her loveless marriage and carrying a pretty intense monkey on her back as well, she suggests that she and Paco run off together. The pair spawned love scenes so sweet and enchanting, I found myself rooting for them despite their despicable self-centered behavior. But soon the fact that they’re both basically cute but utterly useless drug addicts catches up with them as the house Paco inherited from his family quickly rots beneath their junkie feet. The mood becomes depressing, thick, and suffocating, as the young characters shuffle through each scene, dragging their overburdened parents, colleagues, and friends through the shit with them at every turn.
Thanks to a combination of divine providence and ambiguous sexual preferences, Luis’ Latin punk band is soon topping the Ecuadorian charts. But the live wire, who does not hesitate to puke in people’s faces nor cause serious physical harm whenever it suits his mood, eventually takes his recklessness one step too far. The consequences of his actions bring about the The Porcelain Horse’s jarringly abrupt and absurd ending, which is definitely the film’s weakest link.