M, 95 minutes
Review by © Jane Freebury
Harried parents of young children know full well that some days everything seems to be happening at once. A trip to pre-school to sort out why your child has been acting like a toad can coincide with a clash with the boss who brushes your professional opinion aside.
It’s tricky, to say the least, when you are supposed to be providing him with legal advice that supports the standing of the agency you work for, and your professional future. For single mother, Silvia (Carolina Sanin), there is stress on many levels, at home and at work.
She is legal adviser to the commissioner of public works who refuses to terminate a project that has been inactive for years. A ‘huge advance’ has been paid to it and a follow-up is being considered, but Silvia is advising the commissioner terminate it. He is refusing her advice, outright.
lead actor, Carolina Sanin, is a prominent Colombian feminist
Sanin, a non-professional actor cast in the lead role of Silvia, is a prominent feminist in Bogota and, as local audiences might expect, her character isn’t going to take things lying down. She resigns her post as deputy director and quits the city department.
Columbia is a country that has, I’ve read online, one of the highest corruption indices in the world. Although corruption is woven into the fabric of the backstory, it is not one of the film’s themes.
Litigante is instead an intimate family drama set during the last weeks of life of a family matriarch, Leticia (Leticia Gomez), a vibrant, cranky former lawyer who has just been diagnosed with lung cancer. She is mother to Silvia and her younger sister, Maria Jose (Alejandra Sarria), and a loving grandmother to little Toni (Antonio Martinez).
An early scene sets the tone. Silvia is driving her mother home after the MRI that showed Leticia has a tumour as well as pneumonia. She doesn’t want chemo again, Leticia declares as she lights up a cigarette. We get the picture. An ailing, forthright, headstrong lady who is hard work for those close to her.
The film is peppered with arguments, or robust exchanges of views. Many take place on a trip in the car, or in carparks. A sign, we suppose, of people living busy lives. The bitter arguments that can seem harsh at the time are always quickly overlain with genuine expressions of love and caring.
The stress of it all is nearly too much for Silvia. Soon after being subjected to an incriminating interview by journalist Abel (Vladimir Duran), Silvia meets him again while out one evening with friends. Silvia and Abel instantly discover their mutual physical attraction.
director Lillo has put a lot of himself into his film, including a role for his ailing mother
While it’s entirely plausible, the affair seems to be expedited for the sake of the narrative, in a rare unconvincing moment. When Leticia hears about it, she is horrified that her daughter has got together with the ‘jerk’ who ‘humiliated’ her in front of ‘all Columbia’. I was wondering the same thing.
Essentially, Litigante foregrounds a household dominated by three women, the ailing mother and her daughters and the supportive community to which they belong.
Director and co-writer Franco Lillo has put a lot of himself into this film. The actor who plays Leticia is his own mother, also a former lawyer, who was at the time of production in remission for a cancer of her own. Lillo is her only child.
The transcripts of interview with the filmmaker that accompany the film’s press kit are thoughtful and interesting, but I don’t think the results quite match the filmmaker’s brave aspirations, sensitive and sincere as they are.
Litigante reminded me of A Woman’s Tale by the late Dutch-Australian filmmaker Paul Cox. It also featured a performance by an actor who was, like the character she was playing, suffering from terminal cancer. Some people may feel uneasy about this.
However, it is primarily the story of a modern woman. It is Silvia’s story, the story of a woman who is juggling motherhood with her professional and personal needs.
The fact that it is set in Colombia isn’t really significant. Litigante, a family drama with universal themes, resonates with the complexity of modern life and it could have been set anywhere.
First published in the Canberra Times on 1 August 2020
*Featured image: Sylvia (Carolina Sanin), Toni (Antonio Martinez) and Leticia (Leticia Gomez) relax at the pool