Anna Cristina Barragan’s film Alba, winner of the FIPRESCI prize at the 28th edition of the Cinelatino festival, features a multi-layered story, built on the foundation of a single character: a pre-adolescent girl forced by her mother’s illness to move in with her estranged father, a vagabond in both look and lifestyle. This move involves the departure from a protected and maternal environment to an uncertain and unstable one with her loner father. The facade of a bourgeois, mannered life is blown away by her rogue father, who dwells in the bottom tier of society. The separation from her mother coincides with Alba’s first signs of biological and sentimental maturity.
From the director’s point of view, this kind of narrative, revolving around one character, involves balancing an intimate and emotional tale with the broader story of a community. Barragan achieves this through an accumulation of detail: the first sequence of the film features an empty space, its bareness emphasized by a single vent. This is the attic where Alba has come to hide. From this space, empty of any familial and social markers, the director starts building up the cinematic world that Alba must grow in.
Alba’s family home is built around her mother’s sickbed; now she arrives at the makeshift bed of her father’s home. Her father’s house has a vertical extension, an attic, where Alba discovers the evidence of her family’s happy past. The two homes are built on opposing principles: the dispersing of possessions from her mother’s home versus the hoarding of useless and worthless knick-knacks in her father’s. There is nothing melodramatic about these domestic environments: everything is functional and precise, yet warmed by the heroine’s involvement with it.
The camera follows Alba, enveloping her in a kind of filmic halo which softens contours. The camera is the voice of the narrator who tells a story by continuously following Alba: the closeness of the camera means that the drama is encountered at almost skin level. This is a kind of sensorial cinema which allows viewers to almost viscerally perceive the physical pain when Alba rips out a mole that is similar to her father’s, her panic when she gets her first period, the emotions of a first kiss, the elation of her success or the devastation of her loss. These emotional moments are scattered within a cinematic discourse which, in spite of the camera’s closeness to the protagonist, still allows us to perceive the topography of the town, its social circumstances and its interior architecture. The director subtly alternates between attachment to the film’s indoor environment and highlighting the fact that Alba exists in a bourgeois world where the size of your lawn is directly connected to the size of your bank account.
In a world based on fake values, where Alba is alternately caught between the move to her father and the death of her mother, she discovers that the core of her existence is love. Barragan’s greatest strength is that she tells a story which is not didactic, arid or moralizing but instead organic and coherent, weaving together two ways to look at the film’s reality. Alba’s story is not only a great narrative but a cinematic feat from this debut filmmaker.
Edited by Lesley Chow
© FIPRESCI 2016