By Benjamin Akpan
Time serves to remind us that women make the greatest sacrifices, yet are still the most disrespected. In her feature debut, documentary filmmaker María Paz González proves that these women can still have the last word in. With honesty and tenderness, Lina from Lima tells the stories of those who often face ungratefulness and isolation as they try to make their way in life. González brings to the fore the account of the laborers of the world who are most often never given the light of day in media.
10 years ago, Lina traveled from Peru, leaving behind her family, to work as a housemaid in Chile. In her absence, her son Junior has grown into a teenager, with whom she keeps in regular contact with. In the days before Christmas, she prepares to go back to Peru to visit her family. However, a series of unfortunate events prevents her from eventually making the trip: under her watch, her employer’s new pool is damaged, leaving her to deal with the unexpected expense. But Lina’s inability to make it back to Peru to see her family isn’t what hurts; it’s the fact that her son Junior doesn’t care much for her return. All he cares for is the soccer jersey he’s requested as a Christmas gift. Lina has spent the last 10 years of her life toiling for people who could care less for her presence. As she reaches this point of self-realization and begins to find herself, Lina stumbles upon a new found liberation that had been suppressed for the last decade.
Interposed throughout Lina’s story are vibrant musical numbers that play out as dream sequences, cutting through the humdrummery of her life. These over-the-top sequences stand to represent the internal thoughts within Lina’s mind that she’s too afraid to express – from her loneliness, to her need for money, and desire for sexual gratification.
As Lina, the formidable Magaly Solier delivers an extremely simple, yet nuanced performance akin to Yalitza Aparicio’s Oscar-nominated turn in last year’s critically acclaimed Spanish-language film Roma. Solier is muted and restrained, with a quiet rage slowly brewing within her. Never does she burst open, and it is in her silences that she speaks volumes. It is as devastating and poignant as it is hopeful.
The problem with Lina from Lima, however, is that it never remains consistent. The musical sequences give its slice-of-life bleakness a splash of color and vibrancy. Yet, in its second half, much of the musical numbers are replaced with heavy handed scenes that reflect Lina’s despondency as she makes the decision to remain in Chile. The unevenness created by this shift is blatant, staring you in the face as you await yet another musical sequence that never materializes.
The film gets bogged down by a perpetual repetition of certain plot lines and themes that become exhausting – we watch, over and over, as Lina engages in clandestine activity in her employer’s yet-to-be completed house. Ever determined to drive home the point of Lina’s freedom and her contrasting loneliness, González repeats these scenes, however unnecessary. And when she does, she lingers on them long enough for them to lose their desired effect.
Still, Lina from Lima is a great reminder that there’s so many hardworking women out there. Women who struggle day-in-day-out to find beauty and hope in this world; women who work to provide for their families; women who endeavour to care for the people they love. Despite her flaws, there’s something about Lina that makes her real and relatable – and that in itself goes a long way to make Lina from Lima all the more enjoyable.
*Editor’s Note: Lima from Lima screened at the Toronto International Film Festival ’19 as part of Discovery Programme.