Lina from Lima
[…] Two different modes of presentation, the real and the hyperbolic, are brought together in a way that is jarring to the narrative and careful internality that documentary filmmaker María Paz González has developed with more subtlety through this aforementioned relief.
[…] One can appreciate this foray into the genre as the absurdity of Lina’s situation deepens and we experience both the exhaustion and humour intended, rather than a naïve earnestness that musical interludes in film often bring.
A face that tells a thousand words. Lina (Megaly Solier), a Peruvian domestic from Lima, lives and works in Chile for a wealthy, white (now divorced) family, helping to raise their daughter while her own estranged teenage son is cared for by his grandmother. The intensity of this mundane existence is wound tightly in her face, ready to explode at any minute. Her dark eyes glisten with the sadness and difficulties of separation. A boredom blandly compresses the hollow loneliness that is distracted by her relatively relaxed servitude and the brief sexual encounters with men she meets on Tinder, on the job, or in the boarding house where she shares a room with other young male workers.
This film is about Lima’s interior. The beginning and end of the film fixes our attention to the solemnity and stoicism carved in her face, plucked with a striking Gestalt movement from the noisy hubbub of busy lives normally blended in its sameness. This juxtaposition holds us uncomfortably in a state of expectation for something else; it’s a painful existential “waiting”: we ride the bus, look endlessly at unpacked boxes and peel ourselves from furniture unwrapped from a mausoleum of plastic; we are lost in mounds of cheap imitation gifts and half-attended to phone conversations with her uninterested son. There is nothing extraordinary about this life, or ever will be. From this we are suddenly dropped with a disappointing jolt from this threshold of frustrated ordinariness into vignettes of song and dance where she stars.
Lina from Lima is a musical. Two different modes of presentation, the real and the hyperbolic, are brought together in a way that is jarring to the narrative and careful internality that documentary filmmaker María Paz González has developed with more subtlety through this aforementioned relief. The eruption of these “kitschy little numbers” triggered by Lina’s trauma of separation, or deeper desires, suddenly flood the scene with artificial light, shiny coloured costumes and lyrics that intimate her woes: «As I bleed out without a tear».
Over time, these interruptions are where the energy and satirical pulse of the film can be found: Lina’s little life writ large in sequins. These are also moments for the filmmaker to be playful with the form and personally break out (possibly) from the strictures of realism inherent to documentary making. In one transition scene from harsh reality to a choreographed vision of her many internal voices, Lina is at the pool where she takes her small charge to swim. Here the editing slips into animated replicas of Lina in “Busby Berkeley style”, swimming in clusters of flower shapes and creepily cajoling her to «take a leap and jump». One can appreciate this foray into the genre as the absurdity of Lina’s situation deepens and we experience both the exhaustion and humour intended, rather than a naïve earnestness that musical interludes in film often bring.
Structurally, Lina from Lima does something quite different to other films that also focus on the drollness and repetition of working lives with no plot twists or variation in their fabula as a base form. I think of Jim Jarmusch’s understated gem Paterson from 2016 (starring Adam Driver and Golshifteh Farahani) where the protagonist is a bus driver and poet living in a suburban town in middle America. All we witness is the diurnal rolling out of his routine. The monotony is broken by slivers of poetry written across the screen and long takes that monitor his expressionless face. Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma (2018) is a more recent example that splits the focus between the domestic help (Yalitza Aparicio) and that of the family she serves. There is no stylistic shift in the palette of this film, shot beautifully in black and white with an ethno-photographic quality to make us privy to Cleo’s interior. We are to understand this from the minutiae of everyday interactions between her and others. Lina from Lima offers a very different approach to the exploration of the “monotony structure” with its risky excursion into the musical form, but the mixed aesthetic of Indigenous Peruvian tradition with “pop-cabaret” in costume and song, and the versatility of Solier to deliver gravitas and lightness in the crossfade between the real and imagined, makes for an overall enjoyable experience.
Text: Jodie McNeilly-Renaudie
First published: April 06, 2020
Lina from Lima | Film | María Paz González | CHL-ARG-PER 2019 | 83’ | Festival International des Films de Fribourg 2020
Special Mention of the Jury at the Festival International de Films de Fribourg 2020