Another film on my Raindance schedule that I knew I had to watch was Chilean comedy, Ella es Cristina. Directed by Gonzalo Maza, who co-wrote the brilliant Oscar-winning A Fantastic Woman, Ella es Cristina is about the titular character and her on-off best friend, Susana, two women in their thirties who are trapped in a teenage mindset. As Cristina longs to find inspiration for her drawings to find meaning in her life, Susana is forced to become responsible for her actions when living at her mum’s house alone for six months. Ella es Cristina is a perfect modern comedy that mixes the drama of the millennial’s struggle for identity and the plight of the modern woman in a patriarchal society. Maza’s vision is wonderful and it’s hard to imagine that this is his directorial debut.
As expected, the script is fantastic and where the film really shines. Maza has a knack for writing three dimensional female characters, as seen in his previous film A Fantastic Woman. The comedy in the film felt akin to Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha. Not only because they are shot in black and white but the struggle for millennial identity and the aspirations for artistic expression in a male-dominated environment. As well as this, centering the film on the relationship between the two women provides a connective thread through the film even when the women’s plots are not intertwining. The decision to film in black and white is a smart choice as it provides a rawness that allows focus to be solely on the characters. The male characters in the film are set to break the female characters down. Cristina is constantly gaslighted and bossed around by her love interests, used for sex and undermined constantly.
Mariana Derderián is captivating as Cristina, an aspiring artist who longs to find inspiration for her drawings. Derderián has such brilliant screen presence and Cristina is a fascinating character. Unbelievably naive and too trusting of people, Cristina is extremely vulnerable and wears her heart on her sleeve. Initially struggling with the separation and divorce with her ex, Ruben, Cristina is forced to stand on her own two feet and carve out her own identity. Derderián brings out Cristina’s vulnerability while building on the character’s resilience and strengrh throughout the film. One of the most unique female characters I have seen this year, Cristina’s character arc is one of self-realisation and learning self-respect.
In support, or more accurately co-lead, we have Paloma Salas as Cristina’s on-off best friend Susana. Living at her mum’s house rent-free as her mum ventures to Brazil for six months, Susana is forced to become more responsible for her actions. Unapologetically brash and harsh at the best of times, Susana has a tendency to push people away whereas Cristina is too trusting. Desperate to keep connections with her ex and the friends she insults, Susana slowly realises that she needs to emotionally mature. Salas’ performance is brilliant and unpredictable.
The music by Cristobal Carvajal is phenomenal and the opening piece immediately sets the tone for the rest of the film. A stagnant shot of a flight of stairs showing the two leads running up as the powerful drums play. The piece is exciting and filled with anticipation for the rest of the film. After this, most of the pieces in the film are piano led yet carry this quirky and unpredictable nature aligning with Maza’s script. The music feels stripped back yet complex at the same time, just like the characters. It feels as though Carvajal gets into Cristina’s mind and puts her character into music. I look forward to see where Carvajal’s career takes him next.
Overall, Ella es Cristina is a charming and sincere film that explores the uncertainty felt by the millennial generation. Carried by two standout leading performances, Maza manages to draw out an authenticity that explores the modern woman as well as navigating artistic expression in a patriarchal society.
Ella es Cristina is showing at Raindance Film Festival.