Georgina (Pamela Mendoza) is a Peruvian woman in the mid-1980s during the start of her country’s ongoing armed conflict between its government and active revolutionary militias. She’s from an impoverished village and travels into the city to sell potatoes on the side of the street. Georgina’s community supports her and she supports them, but she’s a woman on the edge of a great social upheaval that will change her village’s place in the world and her place with it. The greatest joy in Georgina’s life is her forthcoming child, and when she hears an announcement about a free clinic, she shows up for free care and delivery.
After labor, the child disappears. Her doctors tell her the baby is fine, turn her out to the street and pack up shop, never to be seen again. Pedro (Tommy Párraga) is a young journalist who takes interest in her story and helps to discover the perpetrators of her child’s kidnapping — a criminal syndicate taking advantage of international adoption laws. This isn’t to say justice is found. Sometimes justice never comes for the forgotten ones.
Song Without a Name is writer-director Melina León’s first feature-length film. Her mastery of the frame creates a story of blistering emotional focus. She mixes static, real depictions of human connection with discordant landscapes and unseen commotion, paired with a jarring sound mix. These comparisons don’t do it justice, but imagine the subject matter and authenticity of Roma blended with the pressure and unreality of The Lighthouse. None of the style feels unnecessarily flashy — it’s all in service of Georgina and Pedro’s stories.
It’s not for me to wade into the realm of Peruvian politics, as I’m fairly unfamiliar with the dynamics beyond cursory research. Still, Song Without a Name doesn’t ask for a geopolitical understanding. The men are being called into conflict; Georgina is poor and overlooked by those in power on either side of the system. This is the story of someone forgotten in the scheme of upheaval, a footnote of unbearable tragedy.
Georgina is a name and a number on a lawsuit filed for which a handful of people faced some kind of reprimand. Her child is raised elsewhere, and she is left alone, fully, to feel the consequences. A writeoff. It’s hard not to think of the fact that her story is, frankly, universal in some form or another everywhere, particularly as we’re led down the path toward further overt abuse of women, minority communities and the poor by those in power. It’s a powerful film and a dazzling debut for León.
The 29th Annual Heartland Festival will be held October 8-18, 2020, with both virtual and drive-in screening options. Check out the official website for screening times and ticket information.