QUICK SNAP: LIVE FROM THE TALLINN BLACK NIGHTS FILM FESTIVAL
Four sisters. Four mothers. And just one father. Twelve-year-old Angela (Sofia Paz Jara) is the youngest one, and the only one of the sisters who was brought up by their father. That’s because her mother died at childbirth. She’s not even seen a picture of her mother. The four sisters meet for the first time at their father’s funeral. And they have a mission: to take Angela to her aunt on the other side of Colombia, thereby preventing the prepubescent orphan from ending up in a government institution. They are about to embark on a journey, in both the geographic and the metaphorical sense.
Ruben Mendoza’s third feature feature is a gentle and exquisite coming-of-age tale. A coming-of-age under very unusual circumstances involving death, displacement and also violence. The director’s grip is firm, while his gaze is delicate and perceptive. You’d be forgiven for thinking this film was directed by a woman. Mendoza displays femininity in its integrality, including the societal challenges and physiological changes that Angela has to experience.
The cinematography, which is co-signed Sofia by Oggioni, is punctuated by unusual angles and POVs. A conversation between the four girls and a car mechanic is filmed from under the car. One of the girls is uncomfortable with the man looking at her breasts. “I don’t come with subtitles”, she confronts him. Yet we don’t see their faces, only their feet. Similar tricks and devices are used throughout the film.
Angela hasn’t had her first period and her breasts haven’t grown yet. She constantly contemplates her sisters’ bodies in order to understand the physiological changes that she’s about to experience. The sumptuous female curves, the breasts and the skin are filmed from very close. It feels frank, never exploitative. In what’s perhaps the film’s most significant moment, Angela jumps into the bath tub with one of her sisters. Angela touches her sister’s breasts. The older sibling clarifies: “Your breasts will pop up when you have your first period. When it happened to me, I couldn’t stop looking at my breasts. Maybe my breasts grew from me looking at them so hard”. The sisters encounter violence on their road trip, in another very significant sequence.
Coming at a taut 82 minutes, Wandering Girl is a lyrical, profound and solid piece of filmmaking. The action and the developments are very subtle and slow, while the performances are candid and effective. My only criticism of the film are the coming-of-age tropes. Angela is seen going through a tunnel, riding a trolley past a forest and also dancing with a digger. These sequences felt a little lame and redundant.
Wandering Girl is showing in Competition at the 22nd Tallin Black Nights Film Festival, taking place right now. DMovies have been invited to the event as a special guest.