The film tells the story of two girls, each around twenty years old. One, Lala, is the daughter of a wealthy family that lives in Buenos Aires. The other, Guayi, is a servant in Lala’s house. The two fall in love and, as imdb so curtly summarizes: the girls, “unable to find a place for their love in the world they live in, are pushed to commit a crime”. But it is a mistake to classify this movie as a social drama dealing with the touchy issue of homosexuality in Latin America. It seems that “the world [that the girls] live in” is more forbidding because of the class differences between them. Guayi is Paraguayan and while I am no expert I have the feeling from being here a few months that the two countries are seen as completely different. While my image of Argentina prioritizes Buenos Aires and urban culture Paraguay has no comparable city. Paraguay’s population is also more impoverished. Yet what makes Paraguay an interesting choice is the enormous population (the majority) of Paraguayans who speak the indigenous language, guaraní, if only because it so clearly suggests the legacy antecedent to Spain’s.
Yet the main character is not Guayi but Lala who flees home early in the story to visit Guayi’s home. The film does not take you to the most rural, urban, or impoverished part of Paraguay—it takes you to Guayi’s past. I liked how the images could portray the difference in the landscape while maintaining a focus on the story. Lucía Puenzo has also made a movie called XXY about a hermaphrodite. I want to see that to see if she deals with the social and sexual themes there as deftly as she does here.
In El niño pez Lala is played by Inés Efron, who played Alex, the lead of XXY. Efron does not have the same beauty as Mariela Vitale, who plays Guayi. Maybe I can clarify what I mean if I tell you that Vitale appeared nude in playboy not long ago. Vitale has a commercial beauty, a look that can be marketed because somehow it signifies something verifiable. I might compare her to Megan Fox from the Transformers movies in this way. I wanted to clarify this because, although I think Efron was casted for her superior acting talent and history with the director I also think her appearance was engineered to compliment Vitale’s. Lala dresses in tank-tops and jeans while Guayi wears short skirts and thongs. Lala is skinny and pale. Guayi exudes the exotic, the indigenous—think Disney’s Pocahontas.
Throughout the movie Lala is followed when she leaves Buenos Aires and returns to find her world turned inside out. She sees Guayi with a man and feels extremely jealous. One of my friends pointed out that this jealousy smacked of the machismo culture that I have gotten to know a little better on the streets and in the boliches of Buenos Aires. And, without going too far, I think that Efron’s character is intentionally made more masculine in contrast with Vitale’s. I am not sure what to make of the gender scripting mixed with class and sexuality but I certainly think argentine cultural values heavily affected how this story was put together, for better and for worse.
This past weekend, I went to the French cinema for only my second time to fulfill a requirement for my European Cinema & Society class. The movie we were instructed to see was "Welcome" by French director Philippe Lioret. The film, set in Calais, a small town in northern France situated just across the Channel from London, tells the story of a young Kurdish refugee named Bilal who, having fled the war in Iraq, is seeking a way to rejoin his girlfriend in England. Yet his status as an immigrant leaves him with few options of escape, and he is forced to attempt everything from hijacking trucks to walking the tunnel between London and France. He finally decides to try swimming the English Channel, and enrolls in swimming lessons at the local pool where he meets Simon, his instructor, who takes on the role of mentor, helper, and guardian. The film paints a touching portrait of the relationship between Bilal and Simon, refugee and loner, who find, in each other, the family they never knew they needed.
The conditions under which Bilal (and Simon) are forced to live bring back haunting memories of the Nazi occupation of France during the Second World War. Upon discovering that Simon is housing an Iraqi refugee, one of his neighbors calls in the gendarmes who proceed to enter and ransack Simon's apartment, question him vigilantly, and eventually bring him into the police commisariat where he is informed he is under investigation. Loiret's portrayal of this devastating circumstance recalls with startling accuracy the daunting situation of Nazi-occupied France; Simon is treated by the French authority as horribly as the Gestapo would have treated someone who dared house a Jew during World War Two. The fact that this story takes place in present time makes the film all the more chilling, and tragic. It also brings into light the current plight of asylum-seekers who are denied refuge all across the world. After seeing this movie, I began to think about this idea, and realized that this identity--refugee, immigrant--is not too far from where I am as a traveler. Every traveler, like every refugee, seeks a home away from home, seeks peace or love or family in a land of somewhere elses. Every traveler is in a place not his own, struggling to keep moving forward, struggling to find what fits. Though every traveler may not be fleeing his own country, he is leaving behind a separate identity and trekking faraway into unknown land, hoping to find something he could not find before. Travelers are refugees. Immigrants are travelers. This makes the plight of "Welcome" all the more resounding for me personally.
One of the most impressionable and emotional scenes comes soon after the gendarmes leave Simon's apartment, having searched it for Bilal and found nothing. Simon steps outside his door, watching as they file down the steps, then turns with sad and angry eyes to the closed door of his neighbor who turned him in. Outside the door, on the ground, sits a warm brown mat with the word "Welcome" sprawled sweetly across its face. Simon stares at the mat, closes his eyes, turns back to his apartment, and shuts the door. The power of this scene is undeniable. We are all travelers, all refugees from something or somewhere. Were we not all immigrants at one time? Are we not all still migrating, wherever we may be, today? We owe it to each other, as world travelers, as travelers in life, to welcome and love and hold each other close. We are after all, one world, whether we like it or not. It's about time we all realize it.