WOW FILM FESTIVAL: LAND OF ASHES | REVIEW
Dir: Sofia Quiros Ubeda (2019, 15, 80 mins)
Land Of Ashes isn’t a straightforward coming-of-age film. Director/screenwriter Sofia Quiros Ubeda mixes the passage from childhood into adolescence into a thriller, one rife with symbolism, ghosts and nature. The film is a continuation of her short Selva from 2017, the lead actor again Smashleen Gutierrez, now a luminous 13-year-old.
Selva lives with her tata (grandfather), played by non-actor Humberto Samuels. His wife and daughter, Selva’s mother, are apparently deceased. There is a father still alive who sends money to Selva, but we don’t see him. What we do see is the spectre of Selva’s mother, who apparently died young. She’s a comfort to her daughter and is helping her navigate this confusing time of life. Another main character, and sometimes aunt figure, is Elena (Hortensia Smith). Also the grandfather’s girlfriend, Elena shacks up at the family home, much more hospitable than the hovel she retreats to when she wants to be on her own, up to no good. Elena drinks and is perhaps another substance abuser. Tempestuous Selva spits in Elena’s food after preparing it, thwarts Elena’s snake-selling business and exchanging insults across the kitchen table. Elena’s heart is in the right place, but she’s nowhere near the role model Selva needs. Still, they do make up their own version of a happy family, until tragedy strikes in the most predictable of ways.
Selva has a normal life at school, teaching her friends how to practice kissing on the backs of their hands and striking up a first, halting romance with a boy – but has her own world in dreams and scenarios that exist in her mind, featuring silhouettes speaking to each other on walls, dead animals and her mother. Set in Costa Rica, the family home and surroundings are awash in bright colours; the beach and jungle is shot eerily, but equally as tantalizingly, at night.
Most touching is Selva’s relationship with her wrinkled, frail and emaciated tata. It’s deep with much love and humour; granddaughter does her best caring for a fading man who she doesn’t want to let go of. They’ve depended on each other, sharing grief but also good times. Samuels is a total natural and what a find! A heartbreaker. So is Gutierrez, who has to dispose of treasures and magical trinkets and childhood to move onto another phase of her growing up.
Land Of Ashes was showing as part of the 2021 edition of WOW Film Festival. Info: www.wowfilmfestival.com
words RHONDA LEE REALI