Alicia (Ilse Salas), is a 40-year-old architect forced to make her living as a saleswoman for a luxury property developer. Her life has hit rock bottom. Her 6-year-old son was killed a year and a half earlier in a freak accident after falling off a jungle gym. Her husband blames her for being negligent, and they divorce. Although she actually does not appear to bear any responsibility, she does wonder if, after seeing him fall, she had run to his aid instead of walking, might she have been able to save his life.
Alicia lives in a posh apartment, parking her car on the street on the Plaza Catedral. Thirteen-year-old Alexis, known as “Chief”, (Fernando Xavier De Casta) earns money illegally as a bien cuidado, someone who protects your car while it is parked on the street. Alicia considers him a parasite and does not want to pay him. Chief calls her a typical “gringa”, white and rich and foreign (she’s Mexican).
One evening Alicia returns home to find Chief lying on her staircase, bleeding from a gunshot wound. She drives him to a hospital and leaves without giving her name or address. But Chief, escaping the hospital, appears at the door to her building, pleading to be let in. Alicia gives in and, gradually coming out of her cocoon, begins caring for Chief and his wound.
Although they come from hugely different worlds, Alicia and Chief share their painful realities. One day, Chief breaks open the drawer where Alicia keeps her valuables and steals cash—but nothing else—and disappears. Realizing that Chief is probably going to use the money to buy a gun, Alicia pays a couple other bien cuidados to lead her to Chief’s home. She doesn’t find Chief, but she does later meet privately with his older sister. The sister explains that her stepfather, a policeman, raped her and made her pregnant. Chief wanted a gun so that he can kill his stepfather.
Director Abner Benaim is best-known as a documentary filmmaker. Two of his documentaries, Invasión and Ruben Blades Is Not My Name, also represented Panama at the Academy Awards. Plaza Catedral is only Benaim’s second fictional feature.
Benaim auditioned more than 200 teenage boys for the part of Alexis and chose Fernando Xavier De Casta. De Casta was studying modern dance, but he had never acted before.
Da Casta’s school and dance studies were disrupted by Covid-related restrictions. Cooped up in his crowded family house, he began spending time outside. He was shot to death before post-production for Plaza Catedral was completed.
Students of Latin American cinema might be reminded of the story of Brazilian Fernando Ramos da Silva, who, at age 12, starred in the award-winning film Pixote. He was shot to death by police when he was 19. In De Casta’s case, the details of his murder are not known.