in ,

Chilean Film Blanquita Examines the Complexities of Trauma

Photo: courtesy Outsider Pictures.

The official Chilean entry for the 2023 Academy Awards, Blanquita soberly examines truth and falsehood, trauma and scandal with a jaundiced eye and a compelling script. Based in part on a real-life scandal, director-writer Fernando Guzzoni’s film stars Laura López as an 18-year-old foster child and new mother who is compelled to testify against one of the country’s most powerful politicians. With its excellent script and compelling performances, especially from young Lopez as an enigmatic abuse victim, Blanquita raises more questions about truth, justice, and trauma than it or any film could possibly hope to answer.

Young Blanca (López) works and lives with her infant son in the foster home where she once found refuge as a child. While caring for her child she also assists Father Manuel (Alejandro Goic), the orphanage supervisor, with an assortment of domestic responsibilities, including caring for the facility’s residents. Among them is the anti-social, deeply traumatized Carlos (Ariel Grandón), to whom Blanca seems to have developed a special attachment.

As the film opens, Carlos has a violent episode that Blanca eventually manages to quell. His rage is directed at those who abused him sexually, but the psychologists in charge of his care deem him mentally unstable and unsuitable to testify. His case is closed, to the shared frustration of Carlos, Father Manuel, Blanca, and a congresswoman determined to assist them (Amparo Noguera). It’s not the first time one of his charges has suffered abuse, and it’s not the first time the abuser will go unpunished.

A montage of characters in Blanquita.
Photo: courtesy Outsider Films.

Yet Blanca finds that her ongoing conversations with Carlos have triggered her own repressed memories of abuse. And her willingness—and her apparently more stable mental state—make her a a potentially capable, even damaging, witness against the high-profile entrepreneur (Marcelo Alonso) who stands accused. Blanca offers up compelling testimony, but there’s a wrinkle: nearly every detail of her statement mirrors those Carlos has told her. The examinations that prove her abuse don’t specify when, or where, it occurred. And the power of those she has accused virtually guarantees her testimony will be made highly public and closely scrutinized.

So there is a great deal at stake for everyone involved, but especially Blanca, who is dubbed, insultingly, “Blanquita” by an adviser who claims a diminutive name will make her a more endearing, sympathetic witness. Not everyone wants to be known by a diminutive, nor does every young woman need to be ascribed one by unknowingly condescending “aides.” Especially not Blanca, a young woman whose anxieties about public testimony waver only a little. She is determined to find—and use—her voice.

The film is inspired by, but not necessarily hewing to the facts of, a 2003 investigation into a suspected pedophile ring, one headed by a wealthy businessman Claudio Spiniak and his colleagues. Spiniak, who was also accused of producing and distributing child pornography, was charged with using a gym he owns for sadomasochistic orgies with children. The scandal, which broadened to involve two right-wing senators, other prominent businessmen, and co-conspiratorial police officers, enmeshed Chile in controversy over a public crisis of child welfare. It connected the media, the Catholic Church, the business world, and the government in unprecedented ways. And at its center was a young woman, nicknamed “Gemita,” whose testimony proved central to the charges and whose voice became the voice of every young victim of abuse.

But like the real life “Gemita”—and like so, so many victims of sexual abuse—Blanca’s testimony is called into question. It becomes clear as the film’s fictional narrative progresses that Blanca is telling not “the truth” but “a truth.” And it’s a truth that many, including the accused and the church leaders, all too willing to cover up a scandal to protect their own, will not bear.

And so, Blanquita is a difficult, morally complex, and intriguing film. It’s one that challenges the hegemony of powerful institutions with a young woman’s voice. But it’s also one that is complicated by an inconvenient fact: the witness’s testimony is a lie. In light of that, how should Blanca and her advisers proceed? Is it morally, ethically just to bring down the guilty if it requires falsehood to do so?

Laura Lopez as Blaca faces the camera.
Photo: courtesy Outsider Films.

In categorically rejecting the #BelieveWomen mantra by presenting a protagonist who tells a lie to achieve justice, Guzzano is going to raise the ire of some who would see any such narrative to work in the service of the abuser. But Blanquita is more powerful and more complex than a simple slogan—or even, a simple fact. Its premise is designed to complicate response. And with its excellent script and powerful central performance, it’s a film that gives a voice, by whatever means necessary, to those who have never, in the face of power, had one.

Blanquita, Chile’s Official Oscar entry for 2022 for International Best Film Category, had its world premiere in the Orizzonti section of the Venice Film Festival this year, winning the Best Screenplay prize for director Fernando Guzzoni. The film opens on Friday, December 9 at Cinema Village in New York City, and at Laemmle Glendale in Los Angeles.

Written by J Paul Johnson

J Paul Johnson is Publisher of Film Obsessive. A professor emeritus of film studies and an avid cinephile, collector, and curator, his interests range from classical Hollywood melodrama and genre films to world and independent cinemas and documentary.

Leave a Reply

Film Obsessive welcomes your comments. All submissions are moderated. Replies including personal attacks, spam, and other offensive remarks will not be published. Email addresses will not be visible on published comments.

Two people watch a fireworks display in Empire of Light

Empire of Light Cleanses Messy People With Cinema Magic

A tennis player at Roland Garros shouts exuberantly.shouts

In Final Set, the Sport of Tennis Earns a Well-Deserved Victory