The Everyday Explorations of Lina Rodriguez's Cinema

Two films set in Bogotá explore female desire, betrayal, grief, and the intergenerational relationships and conflicts within families.
Naomi Keenan O'Shea

MUBI is showing Lina Rodriguez's Señoritas (2013) from December 4 – January 2, 2019 and This Time Tomorrow (2016) from December 5 – January 3, 2019 as part of the series Rites of Passage: Spotlight on Lina Rodríguez.

This Time Tomorrow

Perhaps the most striking aspect of Lina Rodriguez’s cinema is that almost nothing of profound significance or vital importance occurs directly onscreen. The Colombia-born, Canada-based filmmaker’s two feature films, Señoritas (2013) and This Time Tomorrow (2016), are both set in Bogotá and observe through a series of vignettes the lives of their young female protagonists over an unidentified, but seemingly short period of time. Señoritas’ Alejandra (María Serrano) and This Time Tomorrow’s Adelaida (Laura Osma) live in their family homes as only children, poised on the tricky cusp of becoming independent and desiring adults, while remaining under the vigilant care of their parents. Alejandra lives with her kindly, traditional, and overly-attentive mother (played by Rodriguez’s own mother, Clara Monroy, who also appears as the aunt in This Time Tomorrow), while Adelaida lives with her warm but wan mother Lena (Maruia Shelton) and sensitive, though ineffectual, father Fran (Francisco Zaldua). Together the films offer nuanced and radical explorations of female desire, betrayal, and grief, and of the intergenerational relationships and conflicts within families, shrouded within a filmic style and structure that seems, on the surface, deceptively unassuming and self-effacing.

Both Señoritas and This Time Tomorrow move elliptically around their characters’ daily routines, meandering amongst the often banal and mostly incomplete conversations they have with family and friends. People speak candidly about sex and relationships, but the films linger just as frequently on the most mundane of talking points; whether a glass of juice will be consumed, or if an ice cream cone will be eaten. The films approach sex and desire with a similar frankness and honesty and, though bodies are often seen unclothed and shot in close-up, the camera eschews fetishizing its subjects. The expression of desire and sexuality are as commonplace in these films as the daily rituals of teeth-brushing or meal-times and are presented to us in just the same terms: unremarkable in their routine simplicity, but captivating for their evocation of the human condition. The marked simplicity of the films’ largely narration-less structure belies a cinematic vision that suggests a radical redrawing of the parameters in which female bodies and desire are cinematically contained. Rodriguez’s films present themselves as both unwaveringly static and richly alive, offering reflective space for a revisionist form of observational, feminist filmmaking.

Señoritas and This Time Tomorrow are shot almost entirely in long takes and static frames, evoking the minimalist, contemplative style of slow cinema. Señoritas begins with fifteen seconds of black before opening onto a medium close-up of Alejandra looking out a car window. For the next two minutes we observe Alejandra in this close, static proximity, her expression unchanging and largely emotionless as she is gently jolted by the car’s movement. Rodriguez frequently positions the camera very close to her characters’ faces and bodies, so as viewers we find ourselves intimately entrapped by the camera’s frame as it observes with unwavering commitment the most minute of details and expressions. With This Time Tomorrow, the film’s opening shot fades marginally more quickly from black onto the truncated image of a tree, in which a portion of its voluminous trunk is viewed for a minute, amongst the swaying shadows of its out-of-sight leaves playing over the grass. We then cut to a shot of Adelaida resting her head on her father’s lap as they watch television in bed together. This shot lasts for several minutes, unmoving, as Adelaida calls out to her mother to bring her a snack and the two talk about taking out the trash. As observers upon these everyday scenes (which predominate the majority of both films’ runtime) we are left with the feeling of waiting for something to begin, trusting that the motivation-less nature of these moments will give way to some form of action, reaction, or meaning.

But as the films progress, and further scenes such as these are shaved away from the greater whole, we are gently nudged toward the realization that this is, in fact, the action and that what has been unfolding for us in a sort of cyclical, unmotivated motion is the place where meaning resides. The short vignettes that structure both films are, when taken as individual moments, resolutely anti-action, but when entwined together begin to evoke fuller, richer, and more complex pictures that speak as much through silence and absence as they do through direct representation. About one third of the way into Señoritas we observe Alejandra (apparently) walking home alone at night, the camera following her from behind for over seven minutes. Aside from the rhythmic sound of her shoes on the pavement, and sporadic catcalls that seem to imply something darker but unexplored in the film, little to nothing happens in this protracted sequence. Such scenes entice expectation in the viewer that might prove confounding or frustrating, but they also offer us breathing space in which the passage of time becomes manifest and tangible. Although nothing actually takes place in the scene—we are quite simply and literally following Alejandra on a seven-minute walk—the weight of her life can be felt pressing in at the margins, existing within the unseen but detectable offscreen. In This Time Tomorrow the single momentous event that occurs in the film—a death—takes place offscreen. All that is implied in the films, but remains unseen and unspoken, is evoked through the absences and silences onscreen, so as absence and silence become important guides to meaning in Rodriguez’s work.

Rodriguez’s cinema signifies a nuanced reappraisal of the systems of silencing that have traditionally undermined female expression and representation in cinema. Señoritas and This Time Tomorrow, while harnessing the style of slow cinema, also play with the schematic tropes associated with the melodrama, or the so-called woman’s film. We frequently observe Alejandra and Adelaida (accompanied by their mothers and female friends) through mirrors and doorways, their bodies doubly contained by the camera’s frame and the domestic frameworks in which they move. They are placed in the restricted spaces of their bathrooms, kitchens, and bedrooms—cleaning bathtubs, applying makeup, preparing food—and, in a subtle inversion of the terms of containment, they appear to move with ease and freedom within these confines. Rodriguez takes the traditionally restrictive space of the home and remaps it as a space of female connection and self-determination. Though the female characters in both films are not expressly liberated or unfettered—each of them appears frustrated, in their own way, by the strictures of tradition, responsibility, and expectation—the domestic spaces where we observe them most frequently figure as spaces of self-determination and communion. Whether it is the bedroom where Alejandra masturbates, exercises, and listens to her mother reminisce about wearing hot pants, or the tiny bathroom where Adelaida and her mother share chores and vie for limited mirror space, the domestic worlds of Rodriguez’s cinema are spaces in which women’s resilience and perseverance rise up gently but insistently, demanding that we do not look away.

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