No more stupid questions about love.
Tragedy struck the Guatemalan orphanage Virgen de La Asuncion Safe Home in March of 2017 as forty-one teenage girls perished as a result of a preventable situation. Some survived to tell their side of the story: the rampant physical and sexual abuse by their custodians, the protests and attempted escape leading to their quarantine, and the possibilities of how the fire that killed their compatriots began. Writer/director Bryan Buckley has taken these accounts and the establishment’s history to weave a gritty drama out of the nightmare that is life for young girls held as second-class citizens by authority. He creates two sisters at its center to serve as hope and catalyst. Ximenia’s (Gabriela Ramírez) love supplies the former while Safia’s (Estefanía Tellez) rage positions her as the latter.
Not believing the events themselves were enough to win our attention, however, Buckley takes Saria down a melodramatic road of manipulation by using his leads as vessels with which to tug at heartstrings even further than mere murder. I get the reasoning behind this maneuver, but I can’t help seeing it as a disingenuous one that belittles the heinous crime being committed. It shouldn’t matter whether these girls were innocent orphan bystanders or guilty felons serving time as juvenile delinquents. This idea that we need them to wonder about the future and long for romance makes it seem as though we as an audience are unwilling to care about them without them being beyond reproach. We shouldn’t be implicitly conditioned to pick and choose who deserves our sympathy.
I’m not saying this is Buckley’s intention, but it’s what occurs when the runtime is too short to give its content the space for authenticity. The film tries too hard to provide information already present without hitting us over the head. We feel for what’s happening on a purely human level regardless of whether a boy (Jorge Ávila‘s Appo) is involved as a means to prove to Saria that not all men are monsters (a warranted belief considering what the men at this orphanage are doing to her). That she’ll never have a romance of her own is tragic, but it’s not more so by spelling it out. Dead people can’t have a lot of things. It’s as though her demise takes a backseat to the film’s ambitions.