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Longing Souls (El Alma Quiere Volar)

Colombian kitchen sink drama is invigorated with a quirky eye for detail - female-led debut feature premieres at the from Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival.


The coming-of-age story is mixed with the old wives tale to excellent effect in Diana Montenegro’s debut feature Longing Souls. A slow, quiet and assured effort from Colombia, it expertly examines superstitious women’s lives through careful and clever composition and a great eye for the tiny accretion of detail.

Longing Souls starts with the 10-year-old Camilla witnessing a truly horrific event: her mother being beaten with a belt up by her father. As a result, she is sent to live with her 79-year-old grandmother. She lives with Camilla’s aunts, all of whom seem afflicted one way or another. Soon, the young girl realises that these women are living with a so-called curse, inflicted upon them by their neighbour Felicia.

But perhaps the curse isn’t really from Felicia, but from the men in these women’s lives: who are either unavailable, abusive or literally infirm. Together these women must band together and find a way to live despite their difficulties. Longing Souls really looks at these ladies, providing a feminist portrait that stays true to itself throughout.

While looking on the outset like a kitchen sink drama, this is not your run-of-the-mill arthouse film. Instead director Diana Montenegro imbues the film with a quirky eye for composition; often employing planimetric shots and horizontal pans to give the old house an immersive feel. Yet she is not slavishly devoted to her style, knowing when to cut to a close or medium shot in order to enhance a particular scene. Still we rarely leave this expertly constructed-space, Montenegro draping the entire film in a Beguiled-like atmosphere; filled with white, flowing clothes, billowing curtains and natural candlelight.

This old-timey aesthetic compliments the many superstitious rituals we see throughout the film: from covering your face with oatmeal, rubbing yourself with stones while repeating mantras, saying the name of Jesus Christ 1000 times, and cracking an egg into a glass of water. Montenegro views these strange liturgic moments without judgement, providing a fascinating insight into how Catholicism and superstition can often be so easily interlinked.

Using a mostly amateur cast, the film balances this stylised approach with fine naturalistic and lived-in performances. Montenegro is not afraid to simply let domestic scenes play out, focusing on the bodies of these women and their relation to the space around them. With moments that are alternately sad, funny and often downright strange, we really get a sense of who these people are; leading up to a pitch-perfect final scene that doesn’t betray the carefully laid groundwork of the film’s previous moments.

Scored to a variety of old-school Colombian pop songs, Longing Souls manages to stay dreamy and touching despite its dark subject matter. It’s affirming to see Argentinean legend Lucrecia Martel as one of the film advisors; with her stewardship, there is a real hope that this film asserts Montenegro as a fresh new voice in South American cinema.

Longing Souls plays as part the First Feature Competition at Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival, running from 13th to 29th November.

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