The feature-length debut of Chilean director Pepa San Martín, engaging family drama Rara has already received acclaim on many international festival circuits, despite a relatively low profile. The film is inspired by a real-life case of a Chilean judge losing custody of her children because of her homosexuality.
In a story with so many different angles, San Martín makes a good move creating the film from the perspective of the children involved: 12-year-old Sara and her young sister. Torn between their caring but paranoid mother and a father motivated only by self-interest, Sara attempts to navigate the normal troubles of early adolescence – boys, parties and homework – while the strained relations between her two families evolve into a bitter battle for legal custody rights. Both girls are witness to the drama of the adult world, while being kept apart from it.
The small scale of the production is set against the backdrop of much wider social issues, particularly homosexuality and the acceptance of gay couples in religious Chilean society. In a film full of excellent performances, in which characters say one thing and do another – sometimes simultaneously – it is the young actresses who stand out with brilliant performances. Rara is strongest when showing how the innocence of the younger characters shines through the many homophobic reactions to the mother’s relationship; uncorrupted, they see love for what it is, and do not see how this could affect her love or parenting.
Despite this, a few tonal missteps leave Rara with less focus and direction than San Martín appears to have aimed for, particularly when the action is stopped for wordless long takes or dance sequences, set against a strange and intrusive rock soundtrack. The opening shot, several minutes long without takes, following Sara as she walks through her school, promises an artiness that the rest of the film seems to forget. As a social message and realistic family drama, however, it is a success, and recent commercial and critical acclaim will hopefully see the emergence of more Latin American cinema on European screens.
Rara does not yet have an official UK release date.
Read more of our reviews and interviews from the festival here.
For further information about the Berlin Film Festival 2016 visit here.
Watch the trailer for Rara here: