La Madrina: The [Savage] Life of Lorine Padilla
Offering a crash-course in the untold story of the life of Lorine Padilla, former wife of notorious Bronx gang leader turned community activist, native New Yorker filmmaker Raquel Cepeda burrows deep into the American-Latinx culture in La Madrina: The [Savage] Life o Lorine Padilla, giving a full account of what life was like for a marginalised community in a dilapidated borough through the words of its eponymous matriarch. While it presents a fascinating first-hand account of an even more extraordinary figure, the film’s scope is ultimately its own downfall and it loses its sense of focus by cramming too much into a runtime that is too small to carry its ambition.
The feature uses previously unseen archival footage in tandem with lots of time spent with the former members of the Black Skulls gang, bringing their histories to life on the big screen in an honest and often emotional fashion. Though their stories and anecdotes of gang culture is entertaining, the documentary never lefts the viewers forget that these are real women who have been through some unimaginably difficult times. As such, this project isn’t about the gang; it’s about sisterhood, community and real human endurance – and it’s all the better for it.
Beginning with Lorine chronicling childhood memories and how she became involved with the gang, Cepeda does a commendable job at establishing everything viewers are required to know about the historical context. However, it doesn’t take long after this introductory section for things to come off the rails. There’s a lot of ground covered in a short space of time, with the film touching on everything from relationships with other female gang members and family life to the development of the borough, AIDS and issues of racism within the American justice system. While this does emphasise just how full a life Lorine has led, the sporadic shifts in topic simply don’t allow anything meaningful to be said about any one issue – especially when it comes to gun violence towards the end.
La Madrina has a bit of a backwards approach. Instead of using a multitude of topics to explore the life of its subject, it would have been more effective to focus predominantly on one area, using details of her life to add extra flavour to her strong character. Had this been the case, this documentary could have given the titular matriarch a much stronger voice.
La Madrina: The [Savage] Life of Lorine Padilla does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews from our Tribeca Film Festival 2020 coverage here.