NEXT BEST PICTURE, review by Giovanni Lago
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THE STORY – After years of remission, Noelia’s cancer has returned and is spreading quickly. Exhausted by relentless treatment plans and pills that do more harm than good, she seeks another way out. Brushing aside her boyfriend Jorge’s well-meaning but suffocating gestures, she heads back to Vieques, the blissful eastern Puerto Rican island where she grew up; a land grappling with its own poisoning after decades of contamination from U.S. Army operations. With Hurricane Irma closing in, and alongside her mother in the serene comforts of home, Noelia looks for an answer to her pain in the land she’s always been intertwined with.
THE CAST – Isel Rodríguez, Modesto Lacén, Magali Carrasquillo, Maximiliano Rivas, Anmín Santiago & Idenisse Salamán
THE TEAM – Glorimar Marrero Sánchez (Director/Writer) THE RUNNING TIME – 93 Minutes
Puerto Rican stories rarely get the spotlight they deserve on the big screen, an island that lately gets acknowledged only for its struggles from devastating hurricanes and the consequences of decades of colonization. That is why it’s refreshing to see an authentic tale of daily Puerto Rican life in Glorimar Marrero Sánchez’s “La Pecera.”
“La Pecera” follows the daily life of Noelia (Isel Rodriguez), who recently learns that her cancer has returned and quickly spread. Instead of continuing treatment, Noelia decides to return home to Vieques. She seeks to find some meaning in the pain she can’t seem to escape. What follows is a journey of self-discovery and the inescapable ties to the suffering that Puerto Rico has endured for generations.
Isel Rodriquez is the anchor that keeps this film afloat. Marrero Sánchez’s naturalistic filmmaking style pairs well with Rodriquez’s grounded performance. There’s a vulnerability to Rodriquez’s presence that feels genuine. Noelia’s character makes decisions that could appear selfish to some viewers, but Rodriquez explains why Noelia thinks she is doing what is best for her. Noelia is someone who is just exhausted. She is tired of being worn down by medicine that impairs her daily functions, people who smother her, and living to see those around her suffer. Despite these hardships, the film also captures the beauty of everyday life in Puerto Rico. The people, the sea, and the beaches are all captured in their natural splendor. You can tell the film is made by someone who truly adores and holds Puerto Rico in such high regard.
Marrero Sánchez clearly has a distinct visual aesthetic showcased in “La Pecera.” The cinematography by Pedro Juan Lopez radiates a warmth that feels incredibly soulful. There’s a surreal quality to it that enamors, transporting you to the island. Marrero Sánchez makes you feel as though you are supposed to be living in Vieques, experiencing the islanders’ daily life.
How Marrero Sánchez writes and develops the relationships in Noelia’s life, especially Noelia’s relationship with her mother (played by Magali Carrasquillo), is one of the film’s better aspects. It’s nice seeing Noelia’s stubborn nature clash with her mother’s strong-willed approach to parenting. Noelia’s relationship with her husband (played by Maximiliano Rivas) is also quite unique. There’s a love for each other that, at times, is a bit suffocating for Noelia. Noelia appreciates everything her husband does but really wants to make decisions for herself. Eventually, the film moves past these relationships. It also tries to focus on Noelia’s ties to the Vieques and the history that comes with it. This is when the film begins to suffer with its screenplay.
The consequences of U.S. colonialism are an aspect that is ingrained into the story of “La Pecera.” Many people from Vieques suffer from cancer and other illnesses due to the pollution caused by the United States Navy when they arrived in Puerto Rico almost a hundred years ago. This whole aspect of the story feels incredibly underdeveloped. Marrero Sánchez is a filmmaker that wants audiences to see instead of being told. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In this case, the ambiguity surrounding the film may confuse more than enlighten. It also makes audiences have to dial in for a film that is intentionally paced very methodically. Even from the beginning, you already expect to know of Noelia’s experience battling cancer. It isn’t until almost a third of the way through that you learn she has been in remission. “La Pecera” somehow feels like a short that was stretched out into a feature, yet also not long enough to expand some of the ideas Marrero Sánchez wanted to cover. The 90-minute runtime is appreciated, but this film would have benefited from being longer.
While the sum is greater than the whole, there is something noteworthy about Marrero Sánchez’s filmmaking capabilities. The way she elicits such innately emotional performances is nothing short of remarkable. The filmmaker’s visual style also stands out above the rest. The final shot of “La Pecera” will probably be one of the better images captured on film all year. Although it feels very much like a debut feature, Marrero Sánchez is a filmmaker that should be on everyone’s radar.