LIANE HANSEN, host:

A particularly quirky movie from Colombia was screened at Cannes this year. It's about a man who is paralyzed after being shot by police. He grows so desperate for state compensation that he hijacks an airliner with two grenades hidden in his diaper. It's not only a true story - the hijacker plays himself in the film.

NPR's Juan Forero has the story from Florencia, Colombia.

JUAN FORERO: In 2005, Porfirio Ramirez boarded a flight here, in this bustling jungle town in southern Colombia. He was in his wheelchair, but he commandeered the flight with two live grenades he'd hidden in his diaper. He then demanded the state compensate him for a 1991 shooting that had left him paralyzed from the waist down.

Mr. PORFIRIO RAMIREZ: (Spanish spoken)

FORERO: I said, I'm going to show the government, Ramirez said, and get them to listen to me. He claimed rogue cops had shot him. An investigation was opened, and then closed. The hijacking ended peacefully when government negotiators snookered Ramirez, giving him a receipt for a $43,000 check they claimed to have deposited in his account. He was promptly arrested, convicted, and sentenced to eight years of house arrest.

Colombian filmmaker Alejandro Landes read about the story, flew to Florencia to meet Ramirez, and felt he had a fascinating story to tell.

Mr. ALEJANDRO LANDES (Filmmaker): He did something which has a very strong suicidal connotation - almost ridiculous or idiotic. And he played, you know, his biggest hand, his life, for someone who really loves life. So I think those kind of contradictory elements are what made Porfirio attractive.

FORERO: Landes said he found a proud man, one who longed for the life he once had - small-town bon vivant who staged horse races and ran a local pool hall. In an audacious move, the young director cast Ramirez to play himself.

Mr. LANDES: You know, a lot of people were very hesitant about him. And I think even people around me, or my family or even some producers initially thought that it was a rather crazy idea, and that there was no way that he could act. And the screenplay demanded a lot of emotions from him.

FORERO: It turned out Ramirez could act.

Mr. RAMIREZ: (Spanish spoken)

FORERO: I knew I had to play the role fully for the film to be good, Ramirez said. I never felt uncomfortable.

The result of seven weeks of filming is "Porfirio." Made for under $1 million, the film relentlessly focuses on Ramirez's ordeal, using a lens that centers the action at his level - that of his wheelchair. It's graphic and raw but in "Porfirio," it's the small things that count.

(Soundbite of birds squawking)

FORERO: Like a scene where Porfirio gets at an itch near the healed bullet wound in his back with a wooden back scratcher.

Another scene has him barreling down the street in his wheelchair. The film's power comes from capturing the everyday life of a man trapped in his broken body.

Mr. RAMIREZ: (Spanish spoken)

FORERO: It's a life sentence, Ramirez explained. Imagine finding yourself on your backside for 20 years without being able to go out.

Despite the indignities, there is something quietly dignified about Ramirez, who's 55, barely 5 feet tall and speaks in soft, measured tones. And also something a bit humorous, as when he sings the bawdy songs he's composed - like one about his own travails, which helps anchor the film.

Mr. RAMIREZ: (Singing in Spanish)

FORERO: This is the story of a man - he sings - who everyone knows, named Porfirio.

Mr. RAMIREZ: (Singing in Spanish)

FORERO: Porfirio, the air pirate, he sings, who'd never had any problems -until one day in 2005, when he hijacked an airliner.

Juan Forero, NPR News.

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