Film Review: SHADOW GIRL (Canada/Chile 2016)

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shadow_girl.jpgDirector: Maria Teresa Larrain
Stars: Maria Teresa Larrain, Cristian Larraín Navarro, Celia Navarro de Larraín

Review by Gilbert Seah

 In the words of writer/director Maria Teresa Larrain: “It is one thing to live in a fog, and another to live in darkness.” Maria Teresa Larraín had inherited her mother’s ailment of progressive myopia. She was told this when she was little when she visited the doctor with her mother. Maria did not know the meaning of progressive nor of the word myopia. Maria asks her mother: “When will we be blind?” Her answer: “We will never be blind!” As she slowly loses her sight, she sees things in shadows but fears when the fog turns into darkness.

These be very strong words. The first 10 minutes of SHADOW GIRL gears the audience to expect a very powerful film – with an important lesson that can only be taught be a person going blind. Unfortunately, what follows cannot match the set-up. Still, SHADOW GIRL is an honest testimony of a person struggling with blindness. Maria was born in Chile with her family dotted around the globe in Chile and Costa Rica and Canada. Ironically, Maria is in the business of creating images so as she says, SHADOW GIRL will be her last film and one that she might not be able to see.

The film is Maria’s personal chronicle of discovery inspired by the loss of her sight, and a memorable depiction of a world beyond our eyes. Larrain is unafraid to display her lonely depression, as she began to lose her sight while editing her last film in Toronto . She decides to rejoin society with the death of her mother in her native Chile. The prodigal daughter returns to Santiago after 30 years away and discovers a society of blind street vendors of La Alameda.

The encounter with this spirited, kindred community forms a major part of the film as it teaches her to overcome her difficult journey.

Maria was denied Canadian disability payments because she had worked while going blind. She filed an appeal. The decision of the Canadian government on her disability benefits form the climax of the film.

The most moving segment of SHADOW GIRL is obviously not whether she had been granted these payments – even though the voiceover stresses its importance. (I only have $5 in my bank account.) It is the film’s formulation of the images – blurry to simulate what Maria sees in her vision. As she traces the regaining of the recognition of colours after her cataract operation, the audience sees how important even a very slight sight is to her and to every person.

SHADOW GIRL has won numerous awards, because of its candid look on the subject of blindness. Among these are:

– Best Documentary of 2016 by the Circle of Chilean Critics
– Best National Film, Audience Award, Documentary of the Month Award and Hackathon Award at DocsBarcelona Valparaiso,
Best National Film, Best Directing and Best Sound Award at DIVA (Diversity International Film Festival

Director Larrain will be present for a question and answer session during a special presentation of the film on March the 12th at the Revue Cinema and hopefully after for a limited release. The film will also be aired a a later date on the CBC documentary Channel, and also on the Accessible Channel at the end of the year.



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