Gonzalo Calzada’s movie Luisa, in which Leonor Manso plays the title role, is a rather interesting character in the nature of loss and loneliness, of fear and desolation in the big city.
After thirty years performing administrative tasks at the offices of a posh private cemetery, Luisa sees her whole life crumble down when she is fired, one year away from retirement. Severance payment? None. Only unfulfilled promises.
Further compounding her desperate situation, the other odd job she had performing for twenty years — household aid for an ageing showbiz star on the brink of retirement in all her glory — has decided to move to a rural estate, in search of the peace and quiet which the glamour of stardom had denied her. Former revue star Ethel Rojo plays the role to perfection, being acalque of her apparent real self.
Doubly unemployed, Luisa’s misery reaches unconsolable proportions when Tino, her beloved cat, dies unexpectedly in the middle of a stormy night.
Luisa, who a long time ago had suffered a personal loss, now finds herself truly alone, unemployed, catless, and an obsession develops in her frail mind: giving the deceased feline proper burial.
Rocío Azuaga’s script is intelligent in that it sticks to classical metaphors and allusions, instead of going for contrived and presumably more artistic detours. Just one example: having worked at a private cemetery where, due to the previous owner’s kindness, her own folk are buried, Luisa has neither the means nor the help to — like a latter-day Antigone — give proper burial to her last beloved departed. Luisa carefully, lovingly wraps the dead cat in polystyrene and puts him in a red shoe box. Red, a bright colour that makes a sharp contrast with Luisa’s permanent sartorial style: a formal two-piece suit, black shoes, her brown hair in a bun.
About two thirds of Luisa, the movie, make for an engaging portrait of desolation in a cruel world that won’t listen. Luisa’s sudden descent into urban hell is movingly depicted by Manso, who goes all the range from seemingly unbreakable woman (in spite of her personal losses), to a fragile human being that falls into a dark abyss, with no light at the end of the tunnel.
But it is a tunnel, a world unknown to her, that eventually becomes the turning point in Luisa’s perambulations. Here’s another deceivingly simple narrative device, the contrast between the underworld and the superficial, unquestioned life above ground.
Paradoxically enough, it is this vehement respect for formal narrative that eventually becomes Luisa’s weak point. There’s a moment in the film in which things start to become predictable, however comforting for the audience.
But Manso’s extraordinary range of acting skills maintains the film’s balance, her face and her demeanour the embodiment of solitude and despair.
As far as mood and narrative style goes, Luisa may be compared to the superb Spanish production Solas (1999), by Benito Zambrano. Solas, winner of many accolades and well-deserved awards, including the Argentine Film Critics’ Association Prize for Best Picture, never deviates from the narratology dictum that, in the case of drama, despair goes in crescendo and a) reaches a tragical conclusion; or b) the scenario gradually changes until the characters achieve a fulfilling epiphany of sorts.
Luisa inevitably goes for one of the two, but it is not the author’s choice of dénouementthat matters here, but rather Ms. Manso’s extraordinary range of acting resources that give the movie a sense of completion.