Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Naked Screen (orig. La Pantalla Desnuda) [2014]

MPAA (UR would be PG-13 / R)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing listing* (M. Garcia Peralta) interview w. director* interview w. the actors* (S.Letzira Bolaños) review*
LaPrensa Panama review* (E. Mairena) review*

The Naked Screen (orig. La Pantalla Desnuda) [2014] [IMDb] [FAes]* (written and directed by Florence Jaugey [IMDb] [FAes]*) is a well written / well acted contemporary NICARAGUAN feature film ("largo metraje") that played recently at the 2015 -- 31st Chicago Latino Film Festival and tells a very contemporary cautionary tale that would certainly be understandable by young people the world over:

Two young people - Alex (played by Óscar Sinela [IMDb] [FAes]*) and Esperanza (played by Paola Baldion [IMDb] [FAes]*) - attending a local Catholic agrarian college somewhere in Nicaragua are very much in love.  So after classes one afternoon, they ride over on Alex' motorbike to some local (for lack of a better term) "love motel" to get some privacy for some sex.  And for whatever reason, Alex gets it into his head that it'd be really cool if he could capture their love making this time on his smart phone.

Esperanza is not thrilled, asks him to turn it darned thing off, but after turning it off once, when he turns it on again a second time, she wasn't going to continue to argue with him.  And so it is ... there's a record now of them having sex, or more to the point, of _her_ having sex with him (he was holding the smart phone after all...).  She's not happy, but he's telling her "It'll be a 'recuerdo' (a keepsake/memory) for us when we grow old(er) ..."

Okay, we the viewers, looking-in on this story playing-out can immediately imagine all kinds of ways that his can go badly ... and it does.

A relatively short time afterwards, while Alex is playing pool (billiards) with his friends, Alex loses his phone ...

Actually, Alex doesn't really lose his phone.  It kinda gets stolen from him.  And it gets stolen from him by nominally a good friend of his, Octavio (played by Roberto Guillén [IMDb] [FAes]*).

Now Octavio takes the phone initially NOT because he knows what's on it.  He just takes the phone because the opportunity presented itself:  Alex, "the rich(est) kid" in this group of friends (his parents own a small/midsided coffee plantation - a finca - outside of town), was drunk and the smart phone was just sitting there.  And the more economically strapped Octavio whose family once had once been wealthy but had fallen on hard(er) times -- they lost their cattle farm some time back (PERHAPS during the Sandinista-Contra Wars of the 1980s) AND whose father DIED (PERHAPS during same said wars, OR just simply tragically died, and hence the family's farm was lost as a result) -- simply couldn't resist.  It was just sitting there.  Octavio puts it in his pocket when no one was paying attention -- again everyone was playing pool.  And that was that.

But that wasn't just that.  After he gets home, Esperanza texts Alex to his phone: "Please get rid of video on your phone."  Late teen / 20 year old Octavio who didn't even know that it was there, can't resist now to quickly look for it.  And finding it, he just can't resist POSTING IT on a local YouTube like site nominally called "NicaTube."

Well the rest of the movie somewhat predictably follows ... I say somewhat predictably because that there would still be _many_ pathways by which this film could go, most of them quite bad.  The movie, takes one of those paths, and yes, since the filmmaker was trying to produce an honest film about this contemporary concern, the path that the film takes is certainly NOT PLEASANT, but honestly NOT NEEDLESSLY SENSATIONAL either:  Basically, since this video was put on a local site, Esperanza's relatively quickly identified, and soon SHE's being harassed / humiliated in all sorts of ways.  Octavio, like many/most young people today was techsavy enough to cover his tracks.  So "no one" really knew who posted the video on the internet and, after all, Alex' phone had nominally been stolen.

Now THE PARENTS OF ALL THREE of these young people play fairly significant roles.  Alex' parents (again the wealthiest of the bunch) didn't even know of Esperanza's existance before this video, and the first thing in Alex' dad's head is that ESPERANZA somehow did this to insinuate herself into or otherwise extort something from their (Alex') family.  His quick advise to his son Alex was: "Just dump the ..." which was, of course, totally off base.  But then Alex himself had never introduced Esperanza to the family before anyway.

Esperanza's mom, like Octavio's also a single mom, who ran a small internet cafe' in town, is of course horrified to see this happening to her daughter but is sympathetic and tries to defend her as much as she can.

Octavio's mom, who makes her living more traditionally as a seamstress, knows Esperanza's quite well, but initially doesn't not know all that's happening.  Initially, she just notices that Octavio's gotten much quieter than he was before, spending a lot more time in his room (and actually on the internet) than he was previously.   But finally SHE does piece it together.

Yet what to do now?  She sees what _her son_ has done to the daughter to a friend / seamstress client of hers.  But he's ALSO _her son_.

I'm not going to reveal here how the film ends up, but I would say that the SINGLE COMPLAINT that I had with the film, and in the Q/A discussion that followed the screening, identifying myself in fairness as a Catholic priest, I did ask the director about this:  WHY DID she choose to make Octavio's family SO "muy Catolico" (so obviously Catholic): There were THREE FAMILIES in the story, why was the most problematic one, the ONE FAMILY (of the THREE possible ones) portrayed as being so clearly CATHOLIC.

The director did explain that she DIDN'T WISH to make a criticism of the Catholic Religion.  But she DID intend to present the problem: Here one has a son who's done something clearly WRONG / EVIL, what does one (the parent / the mother) do?  And director did add, that in her experience, working (as a social worker?) in a prison, that she did believe that most parents, indeed _most mothers_ failed that test.

Anyway, it was a good explanation.  I'm not sure I completely buy it.  But I do think that this is a potentially fair criticism of Catholic / religious parents and perhaps the Catholic Church (we call ourselves "a Mother" / "Mother Church") in general: Maybe we are too kind to / too conflicted with sinners in our midst.

I would add that this film was made in Nicaragua, a country that by _all fair accounts_ has had a rather _traumatic_ 50 years (and IF WE'RE HONEST 100 years) of history.

And by the director's presentation with regard to the making of the film, she said it was made in good part by a "local Nicaraguan feminist drama group." This, in fairness, suggests that it was made in good part as a result of the legacy of the Sandinista (left-wing, arguably Communist) years in Nicaragua WHICH WOULD GIVE EXCUSE TO A FAIR NUMBER OF (NORTH) AMERICANS TO WRITE-OFF THE FILM COMPLETELY.

BUT ... FAIRNESS would require STRONGLY NOTING that it was LARGELY ONLY groups LIKE THE SANDINISTAS (Communists...) WHO CARED ENOUGH to create "drama groups" like the one that eventually made this film (I would note here as well that the closing credits to the film THANKED a fairly long list of individual "CROWD SPONSORS" who contributed financially to making this film ... so the financing of the film was actually QUITE MODERN).

I mention all this because IN FAIRNESS, the Catholic Church, OFTEN PROTECTED ALL SORTS OF TERRIBLE PEOPLE (all sorts of malhechores...) BIG / SMALL during those past 50-100 years.  So it would be asking a lot of "a feminist-leaning group from Nicaragua" to treat the Catholic Church with a great deal of kindness.

Still I do believe that it'd be worth the trouble (and once again FAIR/HONEST) to do so.  I write this because, while the Church has protected all kinds of not-altogether good, even TERRIBLE people over the years, and indeed over its history, I do believe that it does so in EXACTLY a fundamentally "motherly" way:

In a world that often rejects even the very idea of Sin, but then turns around and rejects the possibility of Reconciliation / Forgiveness, the Church certainly defends BOTH propositions: (1) That Sin (EVIL) certainly exists but (2) so does the possibility of Reconciliation / Forgiveness.

So it MAY frustrate a lot of people to see Church people visiting prisoners and seemingly "giving a break" to more-or-less obvious malhechores, but if the Church didn't do this, who would?

What is obvious however is that SUFFERING OF THE VICTIMS BE RECOGNIZED _AND_ REDRESSED.  And that then is the question posed here.  How to redress this very personal, very contemporary and very real crime.

In any case, this is a film that gives the viewer MUCH to think about and hopefully much to change.  Good job!

* Decent enough (sense) translations of non-English webpages can be found by viewing them through Google's Chrome browser. 

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