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The rapport between cinema and death (things that are on the screen no longer exist the moment they appear to us) can easily be obscured, but works like La pecera by Glorimar Marrero Sanchez bring it back to us right before our eyes, and it’s terrifying: the film’s images seem to quiver with an unsettling sense of urgency. The film, which premiered at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, feels brutally real and raw even before the source of that tension is clearly revealed.
Isel Rodríguez plays Noelia, an apparently very reckless thirty-year-old—and this is an understatement. The film opens with a moment of peace: we first see her floating in the sea, then we realize that she is in a bathtub. Soon, blood appears in the water, and she rushes to open the door for her worried boyfriend Jorge (Maximiliano Rivas) who is knocking. Noelia lives in her own little world and doesn’t want to let him in—a temperament that only partly explains her work as an artist and her strong personality. When we see her taking pills and Jorge cleaning the opening made on her stomach to connect her colostomy bags, we can guess that she has health problems. Except she’s determined to live her life to the fullest, including dancing and drinking at a friend’s birthday party, despite Jorge’s objections.
However, more than optimism, we sense that there is despair and anger in her determination, and when her oncologist tells her that her cancer has metastasized, Noelia is less surprised than Jorge. Suddenly, we see a reason for her attitude and, on the other hand, the concentration with which she draws or plays with her dead hair which hangs drying on the walls of her bathroom. Rodríguez captures with disturbing intensity not only Noelia’s fear, but also the way she tries to deal with her fear, and indeed the film is often difficult to watch.
Nevertheless, Noelia finds a kind of purpose in life, which also helps to distract the audience from the horror: every once in a while, takes the ferry back to Vieques, the Puerto Rican island where she grew up. There, she finds respite in the company of a childhood friend (Modesto Lacén) who understands that it is better not to ask too many questions. The island is almost idyllic, but a grimmer reality soon tarnishes the postcard scenery: for years Vieques was the testing ground for U.S. bombs and Noelia and her mother (Magali Carrasquillo) spend their time cleaning up the island and fighting for the rights of the people.
The idea that Noelia’s illness has an easily identifiable cause is an almost unbearably bitter and heartbreaking revelation. Therefore, her anger comes not only from her personal case, but from that of an entire people who continue to suffer the consequences of years of occupation. This film by Marrero Sanchez finds an emotionally gripping way to make us feel this staggering injustice in depth, to channel it through the story of this woman who fights to continue living, at least in her last moments, as she wishes. However, beyond the injustice of the situation, it remains impossible to really understand how she must feel. Beyond being a symbol and an example of U.S. violence against the island, Noelia is also a dying person, and watching her suffer as she nears death is extremely disturbing, which in the end, is not that productive.
La Pecera was produced by Solita Films (Spain) and La Canica Films (Puerto Rico). International sales of the film are handled by Visit Films.
Translated by Ivette Romero. For original review (in French), see https://cineuropa.org/fr/newsdetail/437244/