This Is Cinema

in 35th Montreal World Film Festival

by Dominique Martinez

A film festival is like a menu from which you, yourself, can and should, choose the tastiest dishes. But there are situations where you need to rely on others. That is exactly what happens for Ms. Pilar, who is about to turn 81, shares her quiet house located in a provincial part of Peru with Consuelo and Milagros, her two maids, and Tuna, her dearest dog. The daily routine in this household, where all days are the same, revolves around routine, basic events: defrosting the fridge, having meals, taking the medicines, washing and cleaning. The telephone suddenly interrupts this stillness. Patricia, one of Pilars daughters calls to announce her arrival in a few hours along with her own daughter, her daughters’ husband and their baby daughter in tow. After having anxiously agreed, the hostess immediately gets frantic about getting everything ready. By offering the main role to Elide Brero who played in Caidos del Cielo, directed in 1990 by the director’s father, the film director Francisco J. Lombardi, young Joanna Lombardi Pollarolo elegantly acknowledges her artistic pedigree. But then also strongly affirms her independence by the very personal subject and sincere narrative of her first film. Entirely shot in long sequence plans — some of them last almost ten minutes — the main plot features three generations of mothers coexisting under the same roof for one night, sometimes interacting, sometimes trying to avoid each other. No real clash, no spectacular face to face, or big hugs.

Lombardi chooses the introversion, the suggestions of a silent gesture, the evocations of the hors-champs using those still frames in which different characters enter, inhabit and then leave as they come across each other. The loneliness, the hopeless but still needed passion to be together burns slowly and surely. The imprisonment of everyone is tangible: Ms Pilar is focused on the food — the only close ups are of a bunch of beans, some onion cuts, a piece of chocolate cake — and on her dog Tuna. Her daughter Patricia is softly possessed by her jealousy over the absent but always favoured sister Anna and the omnipresence of the — what seems, a much better loved animal. Her own daughter is constantly worried over the baby she struggles to breastfeed. In their turn, the two maids inhabit their own worlds, well beyond the social drift that is made obvious by having them always on their feet during the visit of Ms Pilar’s family. Consuelo is only longing for the time when she could watch her favourite soap opera show, while Milagros impatiently waits for the moment when she would be able to slip out of the house and be body and soul where her obsessive clandestine texting is luring her to. The characters often appear to be just off the frame, partially hidden by a window, a door, a pillar, a wall or by a dark shadow, produced by the sharp contrast lighting. But all of them seem bound to each other during that one dark night, in this huis clos of a house, where all the cupboards are kept carefully locked up as a most appropriate simile of these women’s determination to keep their true selves under key. Finally, the specially brought birthday chocolate cake, which appears to be rotten, is yet another dark visual metaphor… In the meantime, the narrative softens this suffocating feeling by investing in a  poetic dimension: the bright light of the morning in the small garden, the flavour of nostalgia, brought on by the very special home-made bread, sweet souvenir of “the familiar smell, exuding from the bed sheets” as the grand daughter recalls… and the clair-obscur that sometimes takes over the house interior, epitomizing a pause in this impossible, universal and so intimate struggle. It is also a hope, a promise. Thus the powerful nature of a mother’s love is revealed in sharp focus with all of its nuances and all of its stiffness. This is not a fairy tale. This is a faithful slice of life. This is cinema.