When lesbian couple Maria (Vanessa Hernandez) and Claudia (Andrea Henry) are sexually assaulted during a night out at a fairground, the lack of response from the police results in the couple becoming divided over what do to – Maria wants to kill the assaulters using her grandfather’s gun whereas Claudia is more hesitant. The couple also have dreams about moving to the US; these plans, however, are threatened when Maria’s vengeful instincts rear their head during a night out…

Writer-director Urrutia skilfully upends audience expectations of Maria and Claudia going on a roaring rampage of revenge with her emphasis on the realism of the characters and their environment. The revenge aspect instead has to share equal screen time with the complexities of Maria and Claudia’s relationship, which becomes strained in the film’s latter half as Claudia becomes resentful of Maria’s wandering eye, and the two women’s shared dream of escaping to the US, where seemingly anything is possible.

Urrutia also not only inverts this expected narrative focus, but also the components of Maria and Claudia’s plan, as their initial attempts to shoot their assaulters fall apart due to their shared fear and inexperience with guns and violence and their ‘weapons training’ is limited to two sequences that de-glamorise the concept of gun use through their naturalistic depictions (Claudia learning how to load the gun via watching a YouTube tutorial on her phone serves as a particularly striking example). In addition, the climactic scene involving Maria and two male friends seemingly confronting the assaulters in a pool hall is not shown, with only the tragic aftermath being depicted, further emphasising the real consequences of revenge as opposed to portraying the act as an idealised form of closure.

The performances of Hernandez and Henry further contribute to the overall verisimilitude, conveying the fluctuating nature of Maria and Claudia’s relationship in such a natural manner as to create the impression that they are a real-life couple. Both actresses also effectively convey their differing personalities, with Hernandez essaying Maria’s firey drive for vengeance and promiscuity and Henry convincingly depicting Claudia’s more reticent nature, as well as her quiet anger over Maria seemingly cheating on her.

Gunpowder Heart uses the age-old revenge narrative to instead depict the issues facing a same-sex couple in Guatemala to great effect. Urrutia has provided an important Latin American LGBTQ perspective that will hopefully be appreciated by audiences worldwide.

Screening as part of the Edinburgh Spanish Film Festival 2020