Spanish Film Festival 2019, Part 2: The Good Girls, Ana by Day, Carmen y Lola, The Chambermaid, The Longest Night

Jump in for part 2 of my film reviews for this year’s Spanish Film Festival! All of these films are centred on women and issues of class, as directed by non-Indigenous, non-Black women. But there are other themes of intersectionality that I will draw out.

We start with The Good Girls, a much-celebrated tale about greed and White femininity during the 1982 financial crisis in Mexico. Ana by Day starts from an interesting premise – a White woman comes home to find someone else already in her home: her doppelganger. What to do? We move through risque escapism, as envisioned from a place of class privilege. Two of the strongest films of the festivals follow. For the most thoughtful exploration of patriarchy, sexuality and race I’ve ever seen on film, Carmen y Lola is unsurpassed. It was an engrossing story of a young, lesbian Gitana minority woman in Spain, falling in love in a context where ‘compulsory heterosexuality’ and its complex ties to culture and family are unpacked. Another highlight is a methodical and complex look at the lives of Brown Mexican women who service hotels. If you think that sounds mundane, The Chambermaid will floor you with its poignant study of a woman who has always made herself small to survive. She finds subtle ways to subvert servitude. Finally, with its weighty ideals and harrowing topic of human trafficking, The Longest Night is superb filmmaking but utterly horrific for anyone committed to women’s rights. Let’s find out why.

(Read Spanish Film Festival 2019, Part 1)  Trigger warning: discussion of depicted sexual violence, family violence.

The Good Girls

Exploring the impact of the 1982 financial crisis in Mexico through the second-least sympathetic lens possible- upper class White women (second only to rich White men), The Good Girls (‘Las Niñas Bien’) is a scathing look at greed and the worst of patriarchal White femininity.

The film is written and directed by a non-Indigenous Mexican woman, Alejandra Marquez Abela whose parents are both historians (it shows in the meticulous detail). The script is based on a book by a non-Indigenous Mexican woman (María Guadalupe Loaeza Tovar). The audience is presented with a beautiful world filled with rancid people.

We follow Sofía (the excellent Ilse Salas), outwardly elegant but spiteful, snobbish, self-absorbed, calculated and uncaring. Had this story centred a White man, he would’ve been charming and misunderstood. Here, Sofía is a horror to everyone around her, firing her Indigenous staff one by one as they begin to rightfully ask for their missed wages. Her childish and economically inept husband begins losing their wealth when his uncle leaves the company.

Nominated for multiple Ariel Awards (the most prestigious Mexican film ceremony), including Best Film and Best Actress, it’s worth watching, especially for its cinematically jarring, callous woman lead who stretches the audience’s expected allegiance with our protagonist. Ultimately, however, the film is simply interested in condemning Sofía but simply due to her excess, rather than the gender structure in which she exists. The score uses a lot of hand clapping as bodily orchestra, snapping our attention into judgement. Sofía’s obsession with Julio Iglesias is another melodic reminder of Sofía’s shallow interior.

Men get to be insufferable all the time on screen, and yet they are still received as worthy of audience empathy. Sofía is deeply unlikeable and presented as a type of figure straight out of The Picture of Dorian Grey. This is an unintentional reproduction of patriarchy that doesn’t really question gender structures as deeply as it aspires. The film wants us to dislike Sofía because of her vapid consumerism because she’s a woman and audiences expect women to be self-sacrificing mothers and smiling wives. This is the opposite of Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter, where a feminist frame (in the skilful hands of Simone de Beauvoir) can tear apart class and gender in way that challenges the status quo. In only one scene does the story surface any semblance of complexity, hinting at women who are expected to “marry up,” and the compromises they make along the way.

Still, I left feeling awful, not because I felt morally superior to Sofía and company, which the film is inviting us to do. Instead, as someone who grew up working class and disadvantaged, this film is neither entertaining nor liberationary. It’s an interesting, but ultimately unfulfilling, study of class. Even in bankruptcy, rich people have a greater safety net than their workers. These bandits come out not only relatively unscathed, but they leave a nasty bark for us to the last frame.

Score: 6/10 Bourgeoisie nightmares.

Intersectionality: racism is cooly on show across the edges, with Indigenous servants looking after every aspect of life, even the children, better than their disinterested parents. Sofía is both rude and duplicitous towards her staff, even though one of them, Toñis (Regina Flores Ribot) has clearly looked after Sofia since birth. Even as a grown woman, Sofía relies on Toñis to wash her hair, undress and put her to bed, and do a tremendous amount of emotional labour (“Am I a bad mother?” Sofía asks Toñis, even as she carts her children off to an interstate location so she can party with impunity, arming them with a racist and classist warning to be wary of Mexicans.) Sofía is unkind towards her friends and husband. An Arab man is looked down upon, his young, over-eager and newly rich wife is teased mercilessly because of her femininity (too “gaudy”), until their wealth becomes hard to ignore.

Ana by Day

What would you do if you called home one day and the person on the other line was you? And when you go home, you see your doppelganger coming and going from your apartment? Would you freak out and call the authorities? Would you disbelieve your eyes? In Ana by Day (Ana de Dia), Ana (Ingrid Garcia Jonsson) very swiftly overcomes incredulity, packs her bags and finds a hostel across town. Given that her double is going to university on her behalf, visiting her family, going to work and otherwise living out her responsibilities, Ana uses the opportunity to escape her White, middle class comforts in beautiful Spain.

With only one brief conversation with her lifelong best friend, Ana leaves behind everything, including her fiance, whom she is soon to marry. She becomes Nina, and joins a burlesque club with the usual chipper ensemble that films of this kind adore: drag queens, the older, once-glamourous star, and a kind master of ceremonies. This aspect of the film is doted on, with over-the-top outfits, intentionally ghastly choreography, leering older White men, drugs and alcohol, plus plenty of Ana/ Nina nude in scenes that adhere to titillation rather than feminine emancipation.

The more interesting scenes are in the hostel, occupied by various sad, demanding men, kept in line by Sole (played with great depth by Mona Martinez). Sole’s husband long ago decided to stop speaking, and only yells her name from the kitchen when he wants her to feed him. Sole is sleeping with one of the tenants, a horrible young man who is using her affection to get out of paying rent. Sole has seen many young women like Nina come and go and grows affectionate towards her. Why, it’s hard to see.

Nina speaks very little. She is a shell of a character. She soon starts up as a sex worker, but typical of these stories, she just has the one client, Ivan (Iñaki Ardanaz), who “loves” and dotes on her. Even in her new life, Nina takes everything for granted. She has little money and what she earns from her client, she keeps absentmindedly in a bible by her bed.

Despite the guidance of a woman director (Meritxell Colell Aparicio), this film is by-the-numbers White middle-class fantasy of sex work as a temporary adventure, without any real engagement with the work. Whether this is supposed to be a reverie of a bored woman imagining an exciting exploit, a crisis of identity (Nina never really conquers life as Nina, despite desperately trying to convince others she feels “free”), a comment on mental health (one would hope not), a break in reality (after all, Nina’s life is intercepted by Ana’s friends and family who are shocked or confused to see Ana out of place with pink hair), or simply a puzzle, it’s fine that the film is ambiguous. Similar to Enemy (2013), there is a focus on an academic protagonist who, when presented with their clone, dives into a sexually charged underbelly to evade their partners. Ana by Day even ends with an almost identical, resigned look on the faces of the central character when ultimately faced with their carbon copy.

Perhaps the least believable aspect of the film is not that Ana has a replica, nor that she continues to run into her family and (tellingly) not confronted and implored to return home, but that Ana, a doctoral student, would abandon her unfinished thesis. When Ana throws away her best friend’s unread thesis (with an adoring note to Ana, no less), I panicked. Was this a horror film? It seems so, because only a ghoul would do such a thing.

Score: 5/10 Pass

Intersectionality: plagued by patriarchal tropes, the film neither explores gender /class / race, nor does it offer us any true insight into the inner life of this White woman and her search for a new persona. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with Nina taking up sex work. The issue is that it conforms to ultimately dangerous stereotypes. Nina only has one client whom she sees nightly in what looks like a relationship, but they never set terms for this arrangement. Instead, it’s yet another “heart of gold” scenario where male clients beguilingly say they are in love, and woman sex workers believe them with wide-eyed naivete. But, weeks into this charade, when Nina announces it’s her turn to pick what they do in bed, Ivan gets angry and the sex turns violent, yet the arrangement is still positioned as romantic. Nope to this misogynistic trope. Violence is never sexy.

This characterisation of inexperienced, self-sacrificing sex worker is disingenuous and discounts the intelligence and reality of sex workers. Sex work on screen is either depicted as a largely monogamous arrangement where a male client has all the power, specifically because a sex worker falls in love, or as we see in one of the films below (The Longest Night), sex workers are figures of pity. In either case, men are their salvation. This binary view is exactly how injustice and violence against sex workers becomes entrenched. Sex workers who don’t fit these lazy stereotypes are otherwise scheming figures who deserve contempt. As presented here, Nina’s sex work is not freedom; it is patriarchy in motion. Nina does not negotiate her fees. She does not see other clients. She asserts no independent sex life outside of (and with) Javier. She scuttles from life as Ana the betrothed, into a lacklustre affair where she once again simply looks after another man’s needs. The film doesn’t really explore this and instead just lets these things happen to our lost heroine, such as as she is.

If I have to watch another film where an ingénue walks into a rich people’s orgy in a baroque ideate sequence (a-la Eyes Wide Shut and countless other copycats), I’m going to scream.

Carmen & Lola

Easily the highlight of the Festival and one of the best explorations of patriarchy I’ve ever seen, Carmen & Lola (Carmen y Lola) is a must-see. Having already seen the heartbreaking Tremors earlier in the Festival, I felt trepidation at the thought of another distressing story about queer people. Heart-wrenching it is, but there’s also shadow and light, joy and love, and much to appreciate in Carmen y Lola.

The two titular girls are Gitanas, “Gypsies,” an ethnic and economically disadvantaged group in Spain (in other places known as Romani or Roma people). They live in barrios, poor neighbourhoods where the police built a massive panopticon (long abandoned) to keep vigilance over the poor. Gitano people are also treated as a racial group. In their own traditional music, they make references to their proud Brown skin. The White Spaniards look them up and down with disgust, denying them career opportunities, telling them education is a waste of time, and racial discrimination is imprinted into every facet of life.

Nothing other than marriage, children and domestic obedience is expected of these women. The most Gitanas can aspire to become is hairdressing assistants, as most people in their communities are illiterate due to racial discrimination and poverty. The film does not simply paint the women in this world as figures of sorrow. They actively discuss, challenge, police and break out of the femininity demanded of them. Cultural pride and religious connectedness are treated with respect and nuance.

Lola is 16-going-on-17, as she so often reminds us. She is the only Gitana in her class, a fact that fills her with pride, but we also see the strain this causes her at school and at home. Lola loves her parents and her brother, but she is also in active conflict with the narrow expectations they place on her. Her much younger brother follows her around, boasting to their parents that he is spying on her and keeping her in line. Lola is called various incantations of “weird” by her extended family and community members. She doesn’t like wearing makeup and dresses. She likes to ride motorbikes and dreams of being a teacher. She also recognises herself (secretly) as lesbian. This is a precarious social position given there is only one thing society demands of her: she must soon marry, give up school and her dreams of independence and a professional career. Lola doesn’t know any other lesbians. She often sneaks off to the local internet cafe, sits far at the back, and furtively tries to flirt with other women on lesbian chat rooms. She’s sexually inexperienced and finds sex talk difficult.

Carmen is 17 and we see her lavish engagement party early in the story. She feels trapped at the thought of marriage, but keeps up a broad smile that lights up the room. Marriages are important to maintain community ties and it expands families’ social capital. When Carmen’s soon-to-be father-in-law intimates to Carmen’s father that the family can’t find work and can’t afford the wedding, Carmen’s father says emphatically that they will help. “We are now family.” Family ties are deeply emotional, providing the centrepoint of cultural identity and overlapping social relationships. Carmen is vivacious and in every way Lola’s opposite. She loves dressing up, high heels, extravagant costume jewelry and lavishes boys’ attention. She is in love with her fiance, though she suspects him of cheating. He expects her to cling to him in public, but only speak when spoken to. As he walks into their engagement party, however, we see him for what he is: a young, scared boy, complying with his family’s happiness, and conforming to the masculinity of the men before him.

While Lola is more articulate, both women are separately rebelling against convention. The most rewarding scenes are interspersed throughout the film where the young heroines speak openly with their mothers about not wanting to simply look after men and be housewives. These scenes will resonate with women from overtly patriarchal households. Mothers are both keepers of the gender order, but they are also their daughters’ co-conspirators. Lola’s mother yells at her in one scene to get out of bed and put makeup on; they have to go to church and there are plenty of eligible men she needs to attract if she’s to find a husband. But in another scene, where Lola talks of her passion for learning and teaching, her father unleashes a verbal tirade, telling Lola to stay quiet and obey. Lola’s mother defends her daughter’s dreams, and continues standing up to her husband, who only yells more loudly and threatens to hit her.

Carmen’s mother is exasperated that Carmen is interested in a job as a hairdresser. She tells Carmen she needs to instead learn how to cook, clean and lay out her fiance’s clothes. She’s worried Carmen won’t do a good job as a wife. As per tradition, Carmen will soon move in with her in-laws and will be expected to act as homemaker. If she doesn’t practice what her mother has taught her, Carmen could be thrown out and bring shame on their family. But Carmen’s mother also bought her a mobile phone which is secret from the rest of the family. In little gestures and in grand stoic defences, the mothers want their daughters to be safe and to have a better life. The best they can hope for their daughters is that they get to pick their husbands, unlike their own fates, where their husbands were chosen for them.

Lola and Carmen work at the same market, where entire families sell knick knacks to White Spaniards. Lola falls head over heels for Carmen as the two strike up a friendship. The shy Lola is used to being ignored, but Carmen’s friendship brings the young artist to life. For her part, when Lola finally reveals her affections, Carmen responds with homophobia. Unlike most films that use homophobic slurs with impunity, we see the impact of these words and actions. Lola takes charge of this discrimination through the novel use of street art. As Carmen slowly comes around and picks up the friendship, the girls start spending more time together. Their love grows. It’s an interesting depiction of a blossoming romance. Most mainstream films featuring lesbian relationships are either sanitised (no sex or romance, just austere perseverance) or hypersexualised (exploitative nudity pandering to the male gaze). This is neither. Instead, there is lust without exploitation, and the sweetness of first love. Lola is both self-aware and political about her sexual identity. Carmen never self-identifies as lesbian. She simply falls in love with Lola.

Patriarchal and homophobic violence is everywhere, but it is not left without incisive comment. The scene where Lola’s mother finds a love letter from Carmen and what unfolds leaves a deep impression. Like other Gitanos, Carmen’s mother is illiterate but deeply Christian. She understands what she sees, and tearfully asks Lola to read her the letter.  She cries, saying she is heartbroken, because the Church says that homosexuality is a “sin.” No, says Lola, she loves another woman, and that love is not a sin. Mother and daughter cry and hold onto one another. Lola’s mother is inconsolable, saying she’s forced to tell her husband, because if he finds out from someone else it will be worse. “He’s going to kills us,” each woman cries. (The use of the word “us” when they might each have said “me,” is another sign of the mother-daughter bond and their intertwined fates under patriarchy.) It is a frightening exchange, and like most depictions of family violence in this film, it is handled with great care and realism.

When Lola’s father is told, he flies into a rage. Lola’s mother begs for her daughter’s life. Throwing herself on her husband, she screams for him to release her daughter: “Kill me instead!” The repercussions of the dialogue still haunt me. As the father throws Lola in the family truck, Lola, crying, begins to quietly pray through her tears, seeking personal solace as she resigns to whatever violent fate waits. Lola’s mother cries, prays and screams in vain for her daughter’s safety. It is a rapidly unfolding, but chilling sequence. Any woman who comes from a family of violence will understand the despair and dynamics of their predicament.

It is tough for films and fictional stories to capture the reality of family and domestic violence in a way that does justice to survivors. This film manages this with compassion and keeps faithful to women’s perspective, rather than simply languishing on the male perpetrator and painting women solely in victimhood. I don’t cry often during films, but this was unbearable yet impactful, without being exploitative.

Lola faces not just losing her family, but her cultural and religious communities. The film handles these complex themes with dignity and it does not lose the central love story of two young women seeking affection and autonomy. This is a rare film that not only does all the women’s stories justice, but which looks at minority women with strength and hope.

Score: 9/10 High Distinction. A feminist film that shows why bell hooks has long told the world that feminism is for everybody.

Intersectionality: Without setting out with such an aim, I’m sure, this film is an expert application of the theory of intersectionality. Gender and race are explored in social context, as co-occurring structures of inequality, alongside class and religion. Lesbian desire is treated as multifaceted, rather than with gimmickry. Lola spends just as much time checking out Carmen’s waist (desire) as she does lightly tracing Carmen’s phantom touch on her hand (social connection). While Carmen has done “everything but” penetrative sex with her fiance (“I almost ruined my wedding!”), Lola has never kissed a girl. How does she know she’s queer if she’s never kissed a girl?, Carmen asks amused. How does Carmen know she’s not gay if she’s never kissed a woman?, Lola snaps back. The characters are on equal footing and never humiliated nor patronised, despite their lack of social power. The film takes a deep look at compulsory heterosexuality, a concept theorised by Adrienne Rich. (That is, how narrow expectations of heterosexuality are forced on women, often through violence, and restricted liberty, exploited labour, cramped creativity, silencing of women’s voices, and by withholding education.)

The family dynamics are placed in sociological context: there is much love between family members, but men’s dominance over the household makes life precarious. Ultimately, it is clear that male violence is not love, but toxic and dangerous. All the women are allowed to shine in their own ways, and while men are domineering, they are not reduced to simple archtypes, nor are they given the space to take over the women’s journeys.

It would be easy for Western, non-Gitano audiences to see this story as a lamentable problem of Gitano culture. Instead, this is a universal story that takes women seriously. The cultural context is specific and important, and while the depictions of hyper-femininity (especially in the community festival scenes) might be distinct, the overarching gender, sexuality, race and religious politics of the film are not dissimilar to countless women around the world. Non-Gitano women that do not recognise themselves in these protagonists are sleepwalking. Go watch Carmen y Lola, and keep talking about it forever.

The Chambermaid

Nominated for six Ariel Awards, The Chambermaid (La Camarista) is an exceptional cinema experience. The film methodically documents the endless, back-breaking work and pride of Eve (Gabriela Cartol), a housekeeper working at a luxurious hotel in Mexico City. We see Eve clean on her knees, reaching up high, when she’s focused and passionate, and when she’s sad and demoralised. Eve is a tightly coiled, responsible 24 year old mother of a four year old son, whom we never see, because she rarely sees him. She travels for two hours each way to get to work, coming in by 6am so she can attend adult classes and finish off her high school qualification. Eve is barely making ends meet. She prefers to shower before she leaves work because her home has no running water and she can only use buckets.

Eve is exceptionally dedicated. She has never made mistakes at work and she can’t afford to. She has her eye on her next dream assignment – level 42, the penthouse, where she will make enough to be able to pay her friend who faithfully babysits her son day after day.

Without exception, the cleaning staff have darker skin, while their guests are all White, rich denizens who travel the world. We spend every agonising second in real time as Eve waits politely for an elevator with a guest, and as she offers privacy to a man who has fallen asleep on the floor and struggles to his feet, blocking her work. We feel her discomfort as a bored Buenos Aires mother walks around nude and shaves her legs, complaining non-stop about her privileged lifestyle. She cheekily requests Eve babysit her baby to give her a break, even as we know with full irony that Eve often misses putting her own son to bed due to work.

Unused to kindness, Eve runs away when given a dog-eared copy of Jonathan Livingston’s book, Seagull. Its tale of perfection is a parable to Eve’s own life. She refuses to sit with her colleagues or play along with their games. She silently rebuffs the sexual advances of the hotel’s window washer. But there is much warmth and comedy too. Plus, as the film builds, Eve begins to rebel in minute gestures- like allowing herself a wry smile when the rich mother flippantly offers Eve a job as her nanny… in Argentina. As Eve’s confidence and sense of optimism grows, so too does her bold refusal to bow down and be defeated to expectations. A scene where she invites the window washer to watch her undress and masturbate is a jolt. By now the audience has grown accustomed to Eve’s formalities. Yet as a woman, you want to cheer Eve on. The scene is perfectly handled under the guidance of a woman director (Lila Avilés, who also co-wrote the script). In male hands this sexual expression might have become a run-of-the-mill male fantasy. Instead, with the male spectator firmly out of frame, and without invasive close-ups, Eve is a woman reconnecting with her sexuality in a place that otherwise completely erases her femininity and individuality.

Eve’s emerging friendship with the energenic Minitoy (Teresa Sánchez, brilliant in the role) is both a source of strength and will lead to an unforeseen tragedy.  While we could easily be seeing the mundanity of working class lives, instead, we are treated to a poetic and moving depiction of an introverted woman trying to find just a little room to be something more than life has allotted.

Score: 9/10 High Distinction. A story for anyone awake to injustice and hungry for a fairer place in the world.

Intersectionality: Indigenous and Black characters fill up this world. While they play what would otherwise be a stereotypical role of cleaners, their friendships and hustle positions them as fully-realised characters. This film is firmly concerned with gender and class as well as a graduated deconstruction of heterosexuality. Women are not mean to one another, and the workers trade favours and sell one another plastic nonsense toys and gadgets to survive. Nevertheless, class competition is tackled head on. Cartol’s performance is quietly simmering, layered and intelligent. An entirely dignified and important look at inequality.

The Longest Night

Stylistically stunning and well-paced, the Ecuadorian film, The Longest Night (La Mala Noche), is technically a solid film. Made with a crew of 80% women, and written and directed by a non-Black woman (Gabriela Calvache), this film tries in earnest to tackle the tremendous social problem of human trafficking. But by focusing on a sex worker who is a drug addict, with a terminally ill daughter, the film confuses issues of violence and sex work in a way that does a major disservice to victims of trafficking as well as to sex workers.

Dana (Noëlle Schönwald) is a sex worker who, much like Nina in Ana by Day, has one primary client, Julián (Cristian Mercado), an upstanding doctor with a generous and kind disposition. They are portrayed as if being in a relationship, when this isn’t really their professional arrangement. We are meant to believe that Julián cares for Dana, sending her help when she’s self-destructive and in danger. But Julián also shows up at Dana’s home without permission, having used his position as a doctor to obtain her details. The film strains to position this as a romantic entanglement, but in critical framing this is stalking and an abuse of power.

Dana is in debt to Nelson (Jaime Tamariz), and has clearly been working for him from a young age. Nelson is brutal and runs multiple violent and illegal businesses, one of which is selling girls into sexual slavery. Dana has clearly always known about this, but the film sets it up so that Dana must save one of the girls in order to redeem her character, simply because she is a sex worker. As such, Dana is presumably unworthy of the audience’s empathy unless she further endangers herself for others. This premise if problematic and does no woman anywhere any justice.

Bundling up sex work (a voluntary form of paid work) with human trafficking (forced migration under violence and slavery) is something that sex workers have long fought against. Sexual slavery is an international crisis that deserves urgent attention, but not in this fictionalised imagining where a “glamorous” sex worker is forced into non-stop violence to redeem herself.

Dana is exposed to multiple forms of violence. Other than the saintly Julián, we see Dana in multiple exploitative and gross situations where sex work is depicted as debasement and therefore justification for the violence that follows. The film is trying to do something different. It is trying to portray a serious topic in a serious way, but in trying to conform to formulaic action and drama, it relies on stereotypes and graphic violence.

The film is disturbing and tough to forget, but not in the way the filmmaker intended. Instead of being moved to the plight of girls and women, the film bludgeons the audience with familiar scenes of gender violence that do nothing to disrupt the social stigma placed on survivors and on sex workers. Without meaning to, and even with its social justice aspirations firmly on show, the film adds to the copious cinematic violence against women. I could not in good conscience recommend this film to survivors of sexual violence, as there are too many circumstances that do not honour lived experiences of victims.

I would be keen to see another film from this filmmaker, but without the melodramatic saviour perspective and “heroic sacrifice” trope. There’s true talent here, and the woman-centred crew is aspirational. Here’s hoping for a more woman-centred frame that does not talk down to its subjects, but sees vulnerable and marginalised women as worthy of respect and dignity without moralising and without conforming to a patriarchal storytelling arc.

Women don’t have to be martyrs to be worthy of having their stories be told.

Score: 6/10 High Pass. I’m still sick when I think of this film, and not in a way that I would welcome again.

Intersectionality: The film is centred on White, cishetero, able-bodied characters. The only time we see a person of colour in a significant way is fleeting, but highly destructive. A White pregnant woman has picked up two young girls and delivers them to Nelson. Nelson gleefully inspects them and points at the Black girl, clearly scared and cognisant of the danger. Nelson, triumphantly exclaims, “That one!” She is dragged back into the van as she cries and resists. She is likely no older than 12 years old. It is clear she is being taken into local sexual servitude. The other girl is White and aged 10. She is taken into Nelson’s compound and locked into a room alone for days, as Nelson negotiates her “buyer.” She will become Dana’s chance for redemption.

Both girls have been kidnapped for lifelong sexual violence. White women have been complicit in this. But the Black girl has less value because she is Black. Whether or not the filmmaker intends us to see this economic racism doesn’t matter, because the film does not interrogate the racist logic.

In a film filled with numerous instances of gender violence, this scene continues to fill me with dread because the filmmaker fails to grapple with racism, gender and power.  The girl is never named, she’s just whisked away into horror. The film lacks the insight to understand how deeply disturbing and additionally violent this, and other moments like this, are on survivors. But the film is not really for survivors. Nor is it deeply invested in the diversity of individuals who are caught up in human trafficking, the local context in which they are bought and sold, and the impact this has on communities. Instead, it treats human trafficking as an issue that conforms to conventional narratives, built by men who don’t care about women or women’s voices. This is is a story worth telling, but not like this.

Read Spanish Film Festival 2019, Part 1

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