After the great and much-talked about success of Blue is the Warmest Colour, a film about homosexual female love which has drawn
criticism for its dictatorial straight male director. It is nice to go back to seeing a lesbian film directed by a queer female filmmaker and writer, Chilean Constanza Fernández with her first feature, although unfortunately not a great film.
The story is simple enough in contemporary Santiago, Roberta (Moro Andrea) a 31 year-old mother of a young son with an ex (Francisco Pizarro Saenz de Urtury ) who still loves her, comes out to her disapproving mother (Mariana Prat). Her girlfriend Javiera (Francisca Bernardi) meanwhile, is a provocative politically active actress starring in a porn version of Othello, who makes queer post-porn and whose father was also a political activist who suffered under General Pinochet. Roberta decides that to ease the tension and reconcile her mum to Javiera they will go on a boat trip (paying small homage to Polanski’s Knife In the Water (1962)).
The film starts off quite intriguingly with Roberta carrying around bits of her bed barefooted and in her underwear in the streets of Santiago having lost everything (in what *spoiler alert* turns out to be a dream sequence). Symbolic imagery that contrasts with the reality of her life tied to many things such as the aforementioned son Emlio, her ex and father of Emilio, lover and mother, and also perhaps a marker of the alienation that her sexual choice can bring her.
After that a few scenes ring true and contain interest one is the coming out scene with her mother Ana, who is played with great feeling by Prat and is probably the most interesting character. She shows well the concern and desire to lead her daughter in what she thinks is the right direction, suggesting to Roberta’s indignation that her relationship would not be good for her son Emilio or ex, and stating that she likes to swim in ‘too many pools’ which will lead to her getting caught in the ‘seaweed’. Marine imagery that obviously foretells the boat trip.
The actual boat trip however proves rather a dramatic disappointment, although we get intriguing glimpses into Ana’s predilection for dressing up facts, talking of her past glories as an actress and claiming she met Sarah Bernhardt who died in the 20s. We also see that her mother was affected by losing her parents early which could explain her overprotecting Emilio.
But aside from this the film is marred by narrative let-downs. Ana too readily tries to be friendly with Javiera after showing such disapproval only a short time before, while Javiera is constructed merely on the basis of being a controversial character designed to provoke Ana. In one scene which I won’t spoil, she does a most unrealistic and inexplicable thing merely for the sake of trying to heighten the drama which seems a rather desperate ploy on the part of Fernández. There is some interest in the fact that her father was a political prisoner but it is not enough to make her a truly three-dimensional character, a further instance of her character seeming too much a plot device is when she confuses and shocks Ana by trying to convince her of post-porn’s merit. Roberta meanwhile confuses as a character in scenes where she goads Javiera into relating her post-porn work to Ana as she knows it will be embarrassing, and then proceeds to be annoyed when Javiera actually talks about it.
The ending is unmemorable and it is a film easily forgotten but for Mariana Prat’s exuberant performance, although it is good to see a queer female film from Chile. But maybe Fernández could pay more homage to Polanski next time by paying more attention to character.
Out now on DVD.