Peruvian director, Melina León, took nine years to bring her successful first feature to the screens in the form of ‘Canción sin Nombre’ (Song Without a Name). The author explains how difficult it was to make this film, requiring her own efforts to reach an “emotional maturity” to complete it.
In 2019, the film was presented for the first time at the Cannes Film Festival’s Directors Fortnight. It has also recently been purchased by Netflix for broadcast across Latin America.
The film tells the story of Giorgina (Pamela Mendoza), a young girl whose newborn daughter was taken away from a clandestine hospital. Giorgina then asks journalist Pedro Campos (Tommy Párraga) for help to start a spasmodic and painful search for her missing daughter.
The story is set in 1980s Peru. At the time the country was annihilated by terrorism and stricken with enormous social inequality. It was commonplace to see the trafficking of newborn children who were taken from their parents and resold to wealthier families.
The film begins and ends with words spoken in Quechua; the original language of Peru before the Spanish conquest. Through the Quechua language, we are invited to enter Giorgina’s world. It is a place made of tradition and ancient dances, such as the “Danza de las Tijeras”. Her world is an ancient and poor world, which is separated from modernity and operates at a slow pace. Giorgina, innocent and simple, hears about an opportunity for free childbirth assistance on the radio. She entrusts herself to a clinic, which unfortunately turns out to be clandestine. At the moment her daughter is born, while Giorgina is still lifeless, her newborn child is taken away from her. Consequently, she begins a search that encounters many closed doors and deep forms of classism that impede her search. She discovers that if you do not have a ballot paper, your voice isn’t heard to make a complaint. Ascending to higher social classes similarly seems impossible.
The film is in black and white and is delivered in the 4:3 ratio. The director says the reason for this is that these colours remind her of the newspaper photos of the era. These photos often portrayed those who had been murdered by acts of terrorism. This particular choice creates a feeling of claustrophobia in the viewer for the film’s entire duration.
The director of photography, Inti Briones, works very well with black and white. He masterfully portrays the desolate and poverty-ridden landscapes of Lima.
The wonderful and painful interpretation of Pamela Mendoza (who gained several kilos for the part) should also be highlighted. Her portrayal is never over the top and shows, with her expressions, the suffering of a mother with a stolen child.
The film flows smoothly around the midway point when details are added to the script that is, for narrative purposes, irrelevant. The plot unfolds in secondary stories that add little or nothing to the main story arc. As a result, the film’s second half suffers from being slow and, at times, boring.
The main themes of motherhood and the societal division created by social classes are narrated and exposed visually and directorially very well. However, the film overreaches by adding additional themes such as homosexuality, machismo and terrorism. Consequently, it wastes a great opportunity to tackle its core initial themes by diluting them all in a cauldron – spoiling the excellent initial idea in the process.
In conclusion, “Canción sin Nombre” is one of the most interesting pieces of Latin American cinema of the moment. It appears current and is certainly an excellent first work from the director.