A Film in the Shape of a Song

in 57th San Sebastian International Film Festival

by Désirée de Fez

Some of the main pleasures at the San Sebastián Film Festival can be found in the parallel non-competitive sections. This year’s edition presented meticulous retrospectives dedicated to Richard Brooks (1912-1992) and the last decade of French cinema. Another brilliant section is the “Horizontes Latinos” (“Latin Horizons”) – a carefully selected list of Latin American films who haven’t received Spanish distribution before the festival. In the past, some of the most interesting films in the festival were presented at this section, among them ”Glue” (Alexis Dos Santos, 2006), ”The Aerial” (La antena) (Esteban Sapir, 2007), ”Acné” (Federico Veiroj, 2007) and ”Tony Manero” (Pablo Larraín, 2008).

At the 57th “Donostia Zinemaldia” (the festival’s Basque name) the “Horizontes Latinos” section has again grabbed audience’s attention with an interesting high quality program. One of the most remarkable films in this section was ”Francia”, written and directed by the Uruguayan Adrián Caetano, whose previous work is ”Red Bear” (Un oso rojo, 2002) and ”Chronicle of An Escape” (Crónica de una fuga, 2006).

Mariana – played by Milagros Caetano, the filmmaker’s daughter – is a child who can’t stop listening to music on her Discman. She even calls herself Gloria after a hit by the Italian Umberto Tozzi. Mariana loves songs because they allow her to escape from reality – her parents’ divorce, their money problems, finding her way in school. Francia is one of those songs that allow Mariana to imagine a different life… but this detail will be only revealed at the end of the film.

Without being contrived, and never losing its narrative sense, Caetano draws us into Mariana-Gloria’s universe by constructing the film like a pop song, stitching it with musical interludes equivalent to choruses and printing on screen the probable lyrics of its central pop song.

As everything in ”Francia” is channelled through the young protagonist’s eyes and ears, it can be seen as a children’s film. But the contrast between the child’s point of view, candid but not naive, and the rough world that she is immersed in makes the film much more complex than it seems. Domestic abuse and unemployment are clearly but not terribly portrayed. The extraordinary musical sense in ”Francia” hides a sharp portrait of the tough reality from which Mariana-Gloria disconnects herself every time she wears headphones and pushes “play”.

Edited by Yael Shuv