Song Without a Name

 

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A Peruvian mother's real-life tragedy is at the heart of a notable work from a first-time filmmaker.

 
Song Without a Name

  

We have here a deeply sympathetic first feature from Peru which, although imperfect, is certainly worthy of your attention. The filmmaker is Melina León who, in addition to directing, co-wrote the piece with Michael J. White. Song Without a Name was inspired by real events drawing as it does on the plight of a young mother who in 1988 fell victim to criminals in Lima dealing in the trade of selling babies for overseas adoption. Many dramatisations taken from actual events adapt them freely and I do not know how precisely Song Without a Name follows the case in question. But what matters here is that León's film, a work that views things from a female perspective, is fully engaged with the plight of the 20-year-old Georgina, carries a strong sense of authenticity and has at its heart a wonderful performance from its leading actress, Pamela Mendoza. She brings Georgina to life without ever for a moment suggesting that she is an actress playing a role.

 

The opening scenes show the pregnant Georgina living in a spartan shack just outside Lima and it is apparent that she and her partner, Leo (Lucio Rojas), are living in dire poverty. Consequently, it is natural that Georgina should take heed when she hears a radio announcement advertising a foundation that exists to help pregnant women. Going there, she duly gives birth to a daughter but the child is immediately taken away. It is claimed that it was necessary to hospitalise the baby, but in truth the girl has been kidnapped so as to be offered for sale and the clinic itself promptly closes down leaving the distraught mother unable to find her child. The authorities are just not interested and, although Georgina enlists the help of a young journalist, Pedro (Tommy Párraga), who sees this as a newsworthy story, even he finds it difficult to trace the criminals.

 

The whole cast play with great naturalism and much of the piece has an apt documentary feel enhanced by very fine photography in black and white by Inti Briones. Admirably atmospheric though the piece is, this debut work does suffer from the fact that León is sometimes guilty of storytelling that is disjointed. In the early stages she introduces us to Georgina and to Leo but then suddenly switches to Pedro, an unknown character at this point and one who for a while has no obvious function in the story. Despite that, the power of the tale is substantial even if the film's later scenes again suggest the inexperience of the filmmaker. One senses that Song Without a Name is seeking to go beyond the personal tragedy of Georgina's situation to criticise those in power for having no time for those on the margins. Thus justice for the poor, the outcast and the minorities (the latter aspect perhaps belatedly explaining why Pedro is portrayed as a gay man who finds himself threatened) is shown not to exist and protestors face violence. This attempt to broaden the film's theme while welcome in itself feels inadequately integrated into the dramatic flow and other weaknesses emerge too (a late touch of stylisation is ill-judged and the ending feels self-conscious in a sentimental way). But the fact is that much can be forgiven when a film is as strongly felt as this and at its best Song Without a Name brings to mind humane cinema classics such as Vittorio De Sica's Bicycle Thieves.

 

Original title: Canción sin nombre.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Pamela Mendoza, Tommy Párraga, Lucio Rojas, Maykol Hernández, Ruth Armas.

 

Dir Melina León, Pro Melina León, Michael J. White and Inti Briones, Screenplay Melina León and Michael J. White, Ph Inti Briones, Pro Des Gisella Ramírez, Ed Manuel Bauer, Melina León and Antolín Prieto, Music Pauchi Sasaki.

 

La Vida Misha Films/La Mula Producciones/Bord Cadre Films/Torch Films-Sovereign Film Distribution.
97 mins. Peru/Spain/USA/Chile. 2019. Rel: 30 October 2020. Available in cinemas and on Curzon Home Cinema. Cert. 12.