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First Look Review - SONG WITHOUT A NAME

song without a name review
A mother looks for her kidnapped child in 1980s Peru with the help of a lonely journalist.


Review by Musanna Ahmed

Directed by: Melina León

Starring: Pamela Mendoza, Tommy Párraga, Lucio Rojas, Maykol Hernández, Ruth Armas

song without a name poster

Melina León’s Song Without a Name opens with a gripping sequence of news stills flicking on a TV, depicting '80s Peru in turmoil, under the threat of insurgent communist party group, Shining Path. The black-and-white vignette that we see these images through, and subsequently the entire film, resembles an early 20th century motion picture to great effect. The sturdy fact-based narrative about missing children reminds me of some of the stronger documentaries I’ve seen in recent years such as The Silence of Others and Dark Suns.

song without a name review

We follow pregnant potato seller Georgina (Pamela Mendoza) in 1988, as she lives in a mountainous low-income village in the greater region of Lima with her husband Leo (Lucio Rojas), whom we seldom get to know as he endlessly grafts away. Upon hearing a radio advertisement of a health clinic offering free natal care, she makes the trip there as her due date looms. An ugly scene follows when her baby is taken by the nurses and they don’t return it to her, abandoning her as she wails out of the ward and pursues her missing daughter.

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Subsequently, she wanders into the headquarters of a major newspaper, where a sympathetic journalist, Pedro (Tommy Párraga), offers to help her after she’s almost instantly dismissed at the door for not having a visitor’s badge. In what looks to be a simple narrative detour that soon becomes an entire deviation from the core plot, we begin following Pedro when he embarks on the investigation and encounters Isa, an actor (Maykol Hernández) who enters into a relationship with him.

song without a name review

This arc of Pedro and Isa’s romance is too disconnected from the time we invest in Georgina’s tragic situation throughout the previous half of the film to ever really take a life of its own, but there’s a clear sociopolitical throughline created in the internal conflict of the two protagonists that rings true thanks to León’s expert world-building. Both Pedro and Georgina believe they could be ostracised, for different reasons that are clear through subtext. However, as a result of the split focus, we’re left with an inconclusive ending that doesn’t hit as hard as it could.

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Storytelling structure aside, what’s so fascinating about Song Without a Name is the period detail and how it contributes to a level of immersion that not only transports you to the time but makes you feel Georgina’s plight deep in your bones. The radios that feed a consistent stream of news and adverts with precise geographical detail, the unembellished landscapes of Lima, the cultural specificity of expressive dance as healing and protest - all of it is crafted and presented with a lot of care.

song without a name review

Then of course there are the more basic elements of cinema that are striking too, from the beautiful 4:3 black-and-white visuals wherein silhouettes and symmetry are in abundance, to the haunting score, to the excellent performances by Mendoza and Párraga. León’s storytelling creativity, sensitivity and attention to detail mark her as a filmmaker to closely follow.

Song Without a Name is available through virtual cinemas in the US from August 7th. A UK/ROI release has yet to be announced.




2020 movie reviews