Ceniza negra [Land of Ashes] (2019)

Ceniza negra
Director: Sofía Quirós
Writer: Sofía Quirós
Cast: Smashleen Gutiérrez, Humberto Samuels, Hortensia Smith, Keha Brown, Yulius Melvin Brown Rudolf, Adeysha Garrido Morales, Krisly Hernández Harris, Danna Murillo Carpio
Seen on: 13.11.2021

Selva (Smashleen Gutiérrez) lives with her tata, her grandfather (Humberto Samuels) and his girlfriend Elena (Hortensia Smith). The relationship between 13-year-old Selva and Elena is tense, and her tata isn’t all that fit anymore. When she can, Selva escapes into the forest for games that feel almost ritualisitc with her friend Winter (Keha Brown). When Elena disappears, Selva has to shoulder even more.

Ceniza Negra is an interesting film. It’s highly symbolic and therefore also a little vague – sometimes maybe a little too much so. But altogether it is a very nice character study.

The film poster showing Selva (Smashleen Gutiérrez) in profile, almost just a silhouette, in front of a blue background. Above her head are light spots that look painted.

I am not completely sure whether I got everything Ceniza Negra wanted to communicate. The scenes with Winter, for example, were somewhere between playing and witchcraft. There seemed to be a deeper meaning here. That they took place in the forest, and Selva literally meaning forest also seems meaningful, to say the least. But I’ll be damned if I know what that meaning is. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t like those scenes. In fact, the evocative and mysterious nature of them made them some of the strongest scenes of the film for me.

But the film is more focused on Selva’s relationship with her tata and with Elena in any case. I thought that the film comes especially alive in the ambivalent fights Selva has with Elena because they seem to be fighting as equals, and not as a teenager and a woman probably 60 years her senior who has a motherly role for her.

Selva (Smashleen Gutiérrez) sitting back to back with Winter (Keha Brown) in the forest next to the river.

When it is just Selva and her tata, things become a little more oppressive, slow and depressed. That is certainly the point of the scenes, and I could barely bear the weight that was put on Selva’s shoulders in those scenes. And that is only right. It is too much for any child.

Altogether, I’d say it’s a strong debut feature from Quirós, even if not everything works out perfectly yet. But that doesn’t mean that one can’t keep an eye on what she does next.

Selva (Smashleen Gutiérrez) and her grandfather (Humberto Samuels) with their eyes closed and a bindi-like stone on their foreheads, and color on their noses.

Summarizing: Interesting.

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