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If you like seeing catatonic rape victims get drugs crammed inside of them, this is your Citizen Kane, sicko.

Joseph Israel Laban (The Philippines, Discoveries)


Sunday, September 11, 6:45 p.m.
AMC 10 (10 Dundas Street East)

Tuesday, September 13, 2:15 p.m.
AMC 1 (10 Dundas Street East)

Sunday, September 18, 9:30 p.m.
TIFF Bell Lightbox 3 (350 King Street West)

A reporter-turned-filmmaker, Joseph Israel Laban’s first feature courses with the journalist’s eye for detail. And sensation. Set on the Philippine end of the Filipino-Chinese drug smuggling diaspora, Cuchera unfolds over the course of one day as veteran dope mule Isabella (Maria Isabel Lopez) trains a handful of newbies. Laban develops the small Philippine town as an overgrown garbage dump, where kids play about in hillocks of trash and teenage kids jerk off while watching their immediate family. Gross, right? Well it gets gnarlier in Cuchera‘s extended setpiece, tailing Isabel as she forces capsules of drugs into kids’ mouths (with a bit of boiled okra acting as lubricant), or into their other… uh… orifices.

Cuchera is grisly, unsettling stuff. Dozens of drug pullets are crammed up the caboose of one less-than-willing mule, while another (a virgin) is raped so that her vagina can accomodate more contraband. It’s not exploitative, exactly, but it seems unduly lurid and mean at times, with Laban overexerting himself to drive home how appalling human drug trafficking is. Still, there’s something tacky and admirable about his portrait of a Southeast Asian shanty-town as a kind of Burroughsian inter-zone, where drugs are scammed, orifices exploited, and mothers pimp out their sons.