A film by Alberto Herskovits and Mikael Wiström
By Carolina Amoruso, IMDiversity.com Hispanic-American Village
Familia is a refreshingly quotidian narrative that penetrates the very essence of family life. The third in a series of documentaries following one Peruvian family, moved on to Lima from abject mountain poverty, Familia says a number of things, tender and tough, hopeful and irreconcilable, about this much flawed social unit for which we’ve yet to find a more fulfilling alternative.
The filmmakers, Alberto Herskovits and Mikael Wiström, track the Barrientos family in a fume, litter and humanity choked barrio of Chorrillos. Nati, the matriarch, has decided to leave for Spain where a job awaits her. She will send money home to Daniel, her life partner; their two sons, Nataniel, considerably younger than his siblings and a whippersnapping force to reckon with, and Dany, old enough to know better…; an unsettled adult daughter, Judith; Azucena, Dany’s wife, and Guillermo, their pre-schooler. They live in one forbidding new and bare-boned home, and all struggle, in his or her own way and collectively, to subsist.
With the intention to remain for only 9 months, Nati must extend her stay in Spain to a year and a half while she overtaxes her physical resources and continues to devotedly send money and call home. She returns to find a new, modernized kitchen and Dany’s marriage busted up. Nati is also new. She’s seen the rigors of immigration and racism in her little corner of Spain and has been unsettled by it, she finds new pleasure in being able to afford luxuries like stylish shoes, and she’s made concert with a community of women, too.
She seems to engage now with her family in a more detached way, although her commitment to them, and her caring, never seem to waver. At the same time, after nearly 30 years of travail raising children and trying to make ends meet, she’s tired and needs the breathing room, even if it means isolation and great physical strain.
After seeking the council of Judith and Daniel and weighing her own needs and obligation, Nati announces her decision to return to Spain. It’s extraordinary to see a family unit that’s had to devote nearly all of its resources to survival—Nati and Daniel first found each other scavenging at a dumpsite—capable of so much introspection and honesty towards each other. Dany, who’s got a serious drinking problem, along with one of general disrespect for woman, is the befogged exception.
Writ large, and imperatively, Familia cries out an indictment of globalization, of the economic tyranny that forces people from their land, their loved ones, and into an alien world where their pockets will be half full but their dignity running on empty. Familia also offers, through Nati’s employment as a hotel chambermaid and Dany’s atrocious behavior towards Azucena–as well as Daniel’s thickheadedness as to why Azucena must leave–further proof that women in underserved societies have enjoyed precious fewer fruits of women’s empowerment than we, living in the metropolitan countries, have. There’s a hint, in Nati’s more independent demeanor now that she’s been to Spain, and her newly-found consort with other women, that her sense of self as a woman is changing, too.
The redefined and more intense bonding of Daniel and Nataniel after his mother’s departures (Nata’s loyalty to his mother never wavers; he seems to show that his precocious soul can expand with the unfolding situation as he matures); and the true affection, built upon their shared, hard history, that Nati and Daniel ultimately have for each other, preclude us from faulting her the decision to leave once again. Nati’s decision does not compromise the family’s strength: by her physical absence, the others must rely on their own strengths to maintain cohesiveness and plug on.
Lima proves an undeniable personage in this film, seen through the claustrophobia of a city grown way beyond its design; the smog and dust, stirred up like trouble by the mere suggestion of vitality; the ubiquitous clotheslines, their streamers of handwash testaments to immuring drudgery, and the bare, sweating concrete walls that dubiously signal well-being. The final scene may at first appear trite, but it is pristine and tells of the city as well as the family: after Nati flies off, Nata and Daniel look out, through the mist to the Pacific. We have seen the filth and dire conditions at their backs that know that there is filth and oppression at their backs as they gaze out beyond surf and bare rock struggling to penetrate the mist, searching for the other side of life’s vista. It is an ambiguous view that, through Nati, and others like her, is slowly shifting before them.