The tenderness and the violence

Song Without a Name competes in the section New Voices, and director Melina León is one of our guests at the festival. Read our interview with the peruvian director. 

Av 4. nov 2019

In Melina Leóns debut-film Song Without a Name (Cancion sin nombre) we are witnesses to the life of people who are caught up by their surroundings without any possibilities to change these. The film is set in the 80s in Peru, when a number of illegal networks of child kidnapping and trafficking to adoption bureaus were revealed. We follow Georgina, a young mother who desperately attempts to get back her stolen newborn baby girl. Poverty and outsiderness serves as explanations for this unfortunate destiny to for Georgina. The baby has been stolen from a false medical clinic Georgina went to after listening to a commercial on the radio tellin about the clinic being free of charge.

November 14th, 15th and 16th: Q&A with director Melina Léon after the screening. Buy tickets here. 

Films from the South has talked to director Melina León, who states that her own father was one of the journalists that revealed these heart-breaking crimes. It was through a phone call her father got almost 40 years after the revivals, that León herself really started to understand the deeper aspects of what had happened in the society around her as a young girl, and that she wanted to make a film out of this story.

- My father got a phone call from a lady that was one of the kids that got stolen.

At the same time, León was living in New York where she has studied film.

- The phone call to my father was like a sign that said that you cannot run away from your past. It occurred to me that even though I could easily say to others that I lived in NY to study, deep down I was running away from the country where I grew up. Peru was a country without future, let a lone a future in the arts. This is the country that you see in the film. When I understood that you can’t run away from where you are born, I started to think that this story was a gift that I received so that I could come back to Peru.

Song Without a Name is a beautiful and brave debut film that differs from the average films in our stressful society full of colours and shifting cuts. The film is shot in black and white, and this makes sense both recoding to Leóns own experiences, but also in relation to the audiences understanding of it.

- In the 80s the newspapers where still printed in black and white. Since my father was a journalist, I remember seeing all these black and white pictures constantly. While working on the film, I figured that the black and white pictures could transport us to those days, so that it would be like telling the news again, but from a totally different perspective, León explains.

The film also consists of longue scenes with few and calm camera movements.

- I think that we need time to get to know people, we need time to watch and I think that’s one of the things that are missing in films nowadays, they are so fast that you don’t really get to experience the life of the others.

In addition to this, the camera movements also reflect upon the impossible struggle Georgina live through, trying to get back her daughter.

- In spite of the fact that these entire things happens to her [Georgina], nothing really changes, nothing happens after he baby is taken away from her, because she is not worth the trouble for the society.

It’s impressive to see the contexture of all the different perspectives on the society and human life in Song Without a Name. In addition to Georgina, we also meet the journalist Pedro Campos (inspired by Melina Leóns father), who decides to write about Georgina’s case, and try to help her. Because Pedro is gay, he also knows how it feels to be in the shadows of the society, an aspect that the title of the film is supposed to reflect up on.

- The title has both feeling from the film; the tenderness and the violence of not being aloud or being respected as a human being. This being an indigenous person in the case of Georgina or a gay person in the case of the journalist.

But there are also many other elements of the Peruvian society taking part in the film, such as the economical crisis in Peru in the 80’s or the rebel group Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso). By following Georgina we witnesses how the indigenous people are being pushed back among other things because of economical and political structures in the society. When Georgina and her husband go to the police to report the crime, they fall short because they don’t know their personal id numbers.

It’s also an interesting aspect of the film that Georgina and her husband speak to each other in Quechua. León tells Films from the South that she is part of a new wave of filmmakers in Peru that makes films that include more local languages than Spanish.

- I think it’s easier now to make films in more languages because we have a ministry of culture that is growing and allowing us to make films the way we want to make them, without the preoccupation of any commercial return. We do of course have a preoccupation to show the film to as many people as possible, but we are not worried about returning the money to the government. That’s why we are capable and free to do films in languages that are not particularly commercial, and open up for exploration of identity and other cultural topics.

This being said, it’s not like Song Without a Name had a huge budget, and it took León and the production many years to gather enough money to make the film.

- The Peruvian grant only covers a third of the budget, and that’s why it took a it’s time to create the film. But I tried to see it in a positive light. The film brings to light serious matters and feelings, and it required strength and a little bit of maturity for my part. I don’t think I would have been able to provide those qualities as a director had I made the film younger, objects León.

For her personally, it has been dark to dig in to the subjects of the film, and even sadder to se that also today, revelation of criminal cases involving human trafficking is common in the news.

- It’s the darkest place I thought I was going to, but human beings seem to have no limits when it comes to cruelties.

November 14th, 15th and 16th: Q&A with director Melina Léon after the screening. Buy tickets here.