A Feminine Poem

in 14th Rio de Janeiro International Film Festival

by Denise Lopes

Nosilatiaj is a word used by the South American Wichi tribespeople meaning beauty. However, it can assume  radically different connotations for Wichí teenager Yolanda (Rosmeri Second), and Antonella (Camila Romagnolo), a Criolla who live together in the moutainous Chaqueños area of   northern Argentina.  Wichí native peoples,  living today in Bolivia and Argentina, survive by hunting, gathering, fishing and subsistence agriculture. The Criollos, the lower middle class white population of  Spanish roots,  have scarcely interacted with the indigenous people of the region. It is on that plane of distance that director Daniela Seggiaro focuses her lens, examining the difficulties in mutual understanding  between the two cultures who live closely, and often  in conflict.

FIPRESCI’s Latin American Cinema Award of Rio de Janeiro International Film Festival – 2012, Nosilatiaj – La Belleza (Beauty) unfolds on screen as a Wichí poem. Preliterate, the Wichi have a purely oral tradition, and are only now beginning to create a writing from a unified alphabet, which has been serving many other indigenous linguisticvariations that exist in the region. The recognition of their language and of their land which is being deforested,  mainly to make way for soy plantations for export, are the biggest struggles the Wichi face today. The film addresses Antonella’s desire to present a Spanish dance in celebration of her 15th birthday and the importance that hair can have on the lives of the two teenagers from these radically different cultures.

Seggiaro–who was born in Salta in northern Argentina and returned to live there after studying at the University of Buenos Aires– finds an oral history here that is at the heart of her movie.  The story told her many years ago by her anthropologist mother, as well as its main adolescent characters , became imprinted on Seggiaro and is the key thread of the plot. Appropriate to the oral tradition, the story was slowly transformed over time into a film. To tell this powerful story, nothing could be more effective than a Wichí feminine narrator. Her words resonate on the screen, graphically translated into Spanish, over dark backgrounds of images of nature, as an extra character leading us through the film.

Along with the poetic language, which is as much sung as recited, is the meticulous photography focused on images redolent with meaning. Winds, raised dust and hair that fades away mark the passage of time. It is as if the viewer is thrust  into Yolanda’s memories. Her observations and feelings are slowl revealed. A poetic and subtle tension exists throughout the narrative. Thus, we experience, if only for a few hours, the sense of seeing the world through the Wichí’s eyes.

This ‘glue’ (after Roland Barthes)  with Yolanda incorporates few of the rules of  classic cinematic narrative. The audience’s immersion is accomplished by scattered associations that initially reveal little, but grow more meaningful over time. The dramatic power resides largely in the performances of the white cast, composed of professional actors, and of the Wichi non-actors  also featured in the film. It’s impressive what accomplished performances a rookie film director manages to draw from her cast. Rosmeri Segundo, who plays the protagonist Yolanda, conveys a depth of subtle and varied hues. While actresses Ximena Banus, who plays Sara, Antonella’s mother, and Camila Romagnolo, as a teenager, like Segundo, project a powerful emotional charge through their portrayals

Nosilatiaj is above all a woman’s movie: sensitive, feminine and multi-dimensional. Seggiaro, with an Italian surname inherited from her paternal grandparents, succeeds in bringing the viewer into the light of   Wichí words. The region’s Criolla folk music mixed with local Wichí songs – some composed especially for the film –  blend artfully with Nosilatiaj’s languid and expansive photography. The color palette–primarily earth tones, pastels or washed-out shades– reinforces a sense of melancholy.

Filmed in the Chaqueños region near the Pilcomayo River in northern Argentina, Nosilatiaj is a quasi- anthropological record of the difficulties in understanding between  two populations facing many of the same problems, but who cannot coexist in harmony. Financial difficulties, deterioration of the ecosystem and sub-standard  working and living conditions afflict both of them, but disparate needs and visions result in insurmountable collisions.

The Nosilatiaj conflict, although highly specific, can serve as an example of the intransigence, misunderstanding and disrespect among different peoples. Similar cultural problems exist in the Brazilian Amazon and in several Latin American cities, where oligarchic and colonizing visions still reign. Nosilatiaj  is an undeniably successful Latin American representative in Rio Festival.

Edited by Claudia Puig