HIFF2020: Song Without a Name (2019)

song-without-a-name_poster

4 stars

Song Without a Name (2019)

Narrative Feature/Finalist
Director: Melina León
Screenwriters: Melina León, Michael J. White
Cast: Pamela Mendoza, Tommy Párraga, Lucio Rojas

Premise: Based on harrowing true events, “Song Without A Name” tells the story of Georgina, an indigenous Andean woman whose newborn baby is whisked away moments after its birth in a downtown Lima clinic – and never returned. Stonewalled by a byzantine and indifferent legal system, Georgina approaches journalist Pedro Campas, who uncovers a web of fake clinics and abductions – suggesting deep, rotting corruption in Peru.

Song Without a Name, the gorgeously shot debut feature from Melina León, tells the heart wrenching story of a mother searching for her newborn baby and the journalist who’s determined to help her. Set among the turbulence of armed conflict in late 1980s Peru, the film is harrowing in the way it compartmentalizes its drama into the character of Georgina and establishes the horrific journey she has ahead of her. Lonely journalist Pedro also has his own painful arc to contend with as he works to uncover what happened to Georgina’s child. The two characters’ arc intertwine and land a little differently, but the message and tragedy of Song Without a Name plays on.

Presented in a 4:3 aspect ratio with a monochrome palette, Song Without a Name is oftentimes breathtaking in its depiction of 1980s Peru in unrest. Though the story remains fairly contained to Georgina and Pedro, the film is filled with wisely chosen peeks behind the curtain at the unrest and danger that the Peruvians face. The film’s aesthetic also provides a showcase to the life of Georgina and the poverty she faces. These factors help elevate the missing baby story by demonstrating the mountain of a climb that lays before Georgina and Pedro. It’s a mountain so vast, it’s almost hard to imagine a summit even existing.

The way the film depicts the birth of Georgina’s child at a sketchy clinic helps evoke a bottomless pit of empathy for the poor woman. As soon as the baby is born, she is sent away by “nurses” and Georgina passes out. When she wakes, she’s all but rushed out of the clinic with the heavy door slammed in her face. What follows is a static shot scored by the wails of Georgina’s cries and endless pounding of her fists against the door.

It’s here where Song Without a Name all but rips your heart from your chest. The grief and emptiness Georgina feels throughout the movie is further exemplified in solemn, solitary moments where she reflects on what she’s lost. A particularly heartbreaking moment involves Leo, the baby’s father, asking her what their child was like. To this, Georgina has no answer.

The story pivots slightly in tone whenever it switches to Pedro’s story. He’s the journalist Georgina enlists to help find her daughter. Most of the legwork he does is solitary, though. There are plenty of moments of him following a lead, reaching seeming dead-ends. It’s all very procedural. But his personal subplot involves a burgeoning homosexual romance with his neighbor. This subplot is written wonderfully and given plenty of careful screen time to blossom. It’s a well-acted romantic plot line in its own right. However, I found myself disengaging from the movie slightly as it went on. Not because of any fault on the film or the actors, however. I was disengaging because it didn’t seem to connect with Georgina’s lost baby story. It gives the film a disjointed quality.

The plots do converge in a sense by the end of Song Without a Name. Obviously, I won’t reveal how. Suffice it to say, the film paints a bleak picture of life not only for Georgina, but for Pedro as well. They are two people whose lives become intertwined by happenstance, challenged by their stations in life, and irrevocably changed by outside circumstances. Yet, where each of them end up in the story isn’t necessarily because they crossed each other’s paths. Instead, the film takes another peek behind the curtain of its setting to deposit the characters in places that are both sadly expected and suddenly unexpected. Thus, Song Without a Name ends on a provocative note that will stay with me for quite a while.

Song Without a Name is screening virtually at the 29th Heartland Film Festival from Oct. 8-18.


About the Writer: Matt Hurt is the creator of ObsessiveViewer.com. He also created, hosts, and produces The Obsessive Viewer, Anthology, and Tower Junkies podcasts. He is a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association and lives in Indianapolis with his cat Pizza Roll. 

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