Review: Song Without a Name

This Peruvian black-and-white film, directed by Melina Leon, who also wrote it with Michael J. White, feels schematically predictable on paper. It presents the all too common tragedy of an indigenous woman who is cheated by a nameless, criminal entity that represents contemporary capitalism — ruthless exploitation by any other name. And though the visual production is meant to evoke a feeling of timelessness, the plot exerts a strong sense of the year in which it is set, 1988. 

Georgina (Pamela Mendoza) sells potatoes on the streets of Lima, though she lives in a shack on the edge of town, thus compelling her and her husband to walk a long distance with their wares, even though she is visibly pregnant. One day she hears over a radio loudspeaker an offer for free prenatal care, and checks it out. A van takes her to a clinic in a different part of the city, where she is given a health check and told to come back when she thinks she is going into labor. She does, but after delivering her baby she is placed in another room and told that her child had some complications and was taken to a hospital. She objects and is turned away. When she returns later, the clinic has vanished, and the police say they know nothing about it.

At this point, which is early in the film, the viewer already sees the degradation that Georgina lives with, and while her despair is heart-rending, it also feels eerily familiar, which has something to do with the viewer’s expectation for such a movie, meaning the viewer’s expectations when thinking about a woman like Georgina. But then Leon throws in a ringer: Pedro (Tommy Parraga), a journalist who listens to Georgina’s tale when his colleagues won’t and sees not only a story that needs to be told, but a means of making his own life meaningful. Pedro is a closeted gay man who has recently, reluctantly embarked on a love affair with an artist. At first, however, he tries to convince a colleague to cover Georgina’s tale, since Pedro himself is in the middle of an investigative report about a paramilitary death squad. The viewer’s interest then goes beyond the usual lurid fixation with the lot of the poor. The possibility of a thriller pulls us in.

But that isn’t Leon’s game, though the investigation does proceed at a certain pace. Leon is too honest a storyteller to sensationalize the story beyond its power to make us angry and sad. Both Georgina and Pedro have lives to live, even as their minds are occupied with the investigation, and as Pedro’s romance stumbles along in an atmosphere of fear and self-doubt, Georgina still does whatever she needs just to survive. The effect is both disorienting and terribly depressing. Most of us can’t handle the genuine drama of quotidian life as an outsider. 

In Spanish and Quechua. Now playing in Tokyo at Euro Space Shibuya (03-3461-0211).

Song Without a Name home page in Japanese

photo (c) Luxbox-Cancion Sin Nombre

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