Octopus skin

It rarely happens to me. I left the movie theater with my senses alert, my heart vulnerable. I listened to every creak, every hum, felt the bright light of the parking lot on my skin, perceived the sad beat of my heart, the clumsy dance of traffic on my way home.

Sometimes art is so powerful that it blends with life. After 100 minutes of contemplation, of poetic brushstrokes, I have been left with the certainty that to overcome meaninglessness, abandonment, we only have skin and poetry.

Skin to connect us with tenderness, to connect us with ourselves, with the other, with the others; poetry to turn pain into beauty. 

Ana Cristina Barragan’s new film is a sad poem, it invites us to a contemplative journey in which everything is inferred. We know that there are mental problems in the family because the mother “also” bites the spoons. We never see the violence the mother inflicts on her children, but there are whip scars on the back of Ariel, her son, and we know that she is stricken with an impossible sadness.

The almost total absence of music allows us to focus on the sounds of nature, of the sea, on small internal movements, on gestures, on absences. 

Those of us who have had depressive mothers know that love is always conditional, that it is subject to a series of ever-changing rules, and that when it is denied to us we are the only ones responsible. “If I don’t love you it’s your fault” our mother tells us, that archetypal mother who gives us life but can also take it away at her whim. I love you if… I love you if you don’t go to the other side of the island, I love you if you guess my thoughts, I love you if you love me and never leave, I love you if you are good. I love you so much that sometimes I even laugh and hold you in my arms.

Cristina Marchán’s performance under Ana Cristina’s direction is masterful, because with a great economy of words and acting resources she tells us the story of a broken woman, of a woman who, consumed by her mental problems and sadness, is unable to see the trace of lovelessness she leaves in her children. She builds them a beautiful and perfect prison, next to nature, where they are all called to purity. But all that sea, all that beauty, all that paradise is stained by the most pernicious violence: conditional love. 

It is not a journey into the saga of some adolescent actors, no. It is a journey into our own childhood, into our own lives. It is a journey to our own childhood, to our insecurities and fears, to a sensitivity that awakens powerful and sweeps us and redeems us like a tide, like a wave. And in that moment of maximum openness and sensitivity is precisely when we confront those closest to us, our cruel and immature caregivers, sometimes infernal beings, sometimes beings of light. Children, perfect sponges, incorporate love and lovelessness, they turn it into body, skin, bone… and hopefully at some point into poetry. 

I was moved by the fragility and innocence of Isadora Chávez, Juan Francisco Vinueza and Hazel Powel. Ana Cristina’s teenage actors don’t act, they are. That is why their characters are totally believable, that is why they move us, they are people who, under the direction of an artist like Ana Cristina, discover their own shadows and emptiness.

What can we do in the face of this desolate conviction that we do not deserve to be loved? To touch ourselves, to feel ourselves. To awaken the skin.

That two siblings touch each other, perceive each other, feel each other, discover each other with tenderness is close to incestuous. And yet in it there is only purity. In those sibling fingers that intertwine there is an instinct of survival. In spite of all that lovelessness, they choose love. It is a vital decision.

In contemporary society we have reduced sexuality to primitive genitality, a linear path that culminates in penetration and orgasm. Sexuality is in reality the full awareness of being alive, the possibility of dialogue with another, the powerful expression of tenderness. 

The encounter with the sea and its creatures is sensual, as sensual is the touch of skin with skin, and sensual is the water that envelops and embraces us. Precious is the scene of the three siblings masturbating, without knowing they are doing it, in the same room. Can there be greater purity? In that context it becomes a militant act, an irrepressible desire to live, an affirmation that despite all the pain, they are, they will persist.

Thank you Ana Cristina for your precious honesty. When I took pictures at the end of your filming I didn’t know what I was doing, I didn’t know the story you wanted to tell. Today I thank you for daring to tell with so much tenderness and poetry, that story that no one tells: the brutal and desolate marks of mental illness, the fragility that we are. And the certain possibility of becoming alchemists, of redeeming ourselves, of turning pain into beauty.

Don’t miss this beautiful authorial film by Ana Cristina Barragán. It has moved me. Like any true work of art, it has transformed me. It has given me permission to revisit my child dragged by the cruel ups and downs of a love that comes and goes.