Chilean Cinema 2013 #4: Leontina (2012)

(Chile 2012 70m) Cineteca Nacional Palacio La Moneda

p Roberto Aschieri, Alexis Peters Leal d/c Boris Peters Leal w/ed Boris Peters Leal, Roberto Aschieri m Jorge Aliaga

There is certain familiarity (in terms of relatability) and at the same time fear in watching someone else’s body, experience and relationships filmed in camera, specially when it’s someone real and living (I’m guessing) as in this particularly beautiful and emotion-stirring chilean documentary. There we are introduced in a quiet and yet immersful way to the life and places that sorround Leontina, the grandmother of the director, a relation that is made clear early on, through the use of texts (instead of a explaining overbearing voice over) underneath the images that were shown (something that had quite the impact on me, so simple, yet at the same time, incredible), that explained certain elements that were inaccesible to the viewer, like the before mentioned relation between the director and the subject/character we’re going to see for the next hour and 10 minutes. The life of Leontina isn’t spectacular, and it’s not something that needs to be told desperately as if this documentary wasn’t made we would’ve lost something important (check the almost urgent and desperate tone of ‘Sibila’ (2012), a great documentary about rushing to tell a story, that somehow diminishes its potential final blow), no, this one is calm with the only fear of death by cancer (that is dismissed by Leontina herself due to her belief that she will survive it), but she has an operation (the one we see quite graphically at points) and her own strong will make it as calm as any other event in the film.

It’s a film about the personal discovery of the story of this stranded character made by her own grandson, and while she isn’t particularly important to us, and while her story isn’t exactly espectacular, we end up bonding because of the feelings present in the filmmaking: the care and delicacy in which the camera seems to caress the wrinkles and dwelve deep into the eyes of Leontina, we end up remembering our own moments with people we love, our own experiences with our grandmothers, and that’s the main strong point of this documentary, we can relate. It’s hard to relate in documentaries, and many try a lot, the most political and critic filmmakers always try to inject some kind of message that should be equaled to pity in terms for the viewer to relate, there are few exceptions in this realm (Michael Moore is just an entertaining filmmaker that knows how to create a film with a discourse of its images and not pitying its subject matter), but it’s hard for a documentary to make you feel close to its characters because they are people with their own particular and highly characterized ideals, the ‘character’ documentaries are hard to relate because they are described in such an analytical manner that you can’t help but notice how different every human being truly is, and how, at the same time, he is different from you… now I’m not saying that a documentary should always relate to its viewer… but here we have one that does, because it doesn’t portray a person, it showcases a relation that is never spelled out between the director and his grandmother.

It’s curious and you have to say thanks to the fact that the director never enters the frame, but we always feel his directorial presence, even in the most invasive and crucial moments (her cancer operation, she taking a shower, contemplating the sea after 50 years), feels as a labour of true and infinite love, the one that we also felt towards that human being that always took care of us in those earlier, more fragile, moments of our lives. I saw this with my girlfriend and I knew that she was entranced the moment we started seeing the documentary, when we saw Leontina going through old photos, sewing in her old machine… my girlfriend isn’t used to the contemplative documentary, as this one was in the majority of its length, but she adored the film and then was moved to tears at the end, as she also remembered her own grandmother that lives far from her. It’s a testament to the fact that the documentary works, it’s well made, it has an amazing cinematography, splendid score and a feeling that we might not actually get to know Leontina, but we know how much we love our own grandmothers… and that is somewhat, a triumph for me.



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