Unrolling like a gentle dream, Beatriz Seigner’s Los Silencios takes the serious subject of the displacement of Colombian refugees and tells it in a lyrical and ethereal way.
Amparo (Marleyda Soto) arrives by boat on La Isla de la Fantasia, a real island in the Amazon between Brazil, Columbia and Peru. Like a limbo, it is a place for those escaping violence in Columbia to wait for entry into Brazil. Amparo has a friend on the island, Abuelita (Doña Alvina), and she finds the Islanders themselves are caught as developers seek to buy their land to build a casino.
Central to the story is Amparo’s daughter Nuria (María Paula Tavares Peña), who is a silent presence, accompanying her mother as she meets with agency staff to organise her refugee status; as Amparo’s husband’s body has never been found, her persecution cannot be proven. Like in so many stories about being a refugee, when personal human strife intersects with bureaucracy, it is the individual who is powerless, regardless of their peril.
As well as being a limbo for the living, the Island is a place where the dead wait. Using a sparse, dreamlike style, Seigner blurs the line between what is real and remembered, who is alive and who is dead. It is powerfully and subtly done. The integration of the characters of the dead allows us to see how present they still are in the minds, memories and everyday actions of the living. It shows how their legacy, the tragedy of their deaths, doesn’t diminish nor disappear when they are no longer able to speak up.
Seigner uses a particular affectation to identify the dead and this is made clear at the end, to ensure we understand. It’s an effective and emotional conclusion, tying a story that is now so universal with the tangible importance of community and cultural and spiritual rituals and recognition.
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