It’s not easy to rebel against the status quo, especially if you are raised under it. When it’s a macho culture and you’re a woman, the challenge will try one’s soul even more profoundly. Eugenia, the new film by Bolivian writer-director Martín Boulocq, is a rumination on this issue that never cops out to the challenges put before the film’s titular heroine (Andrea Camponovo, the director’s wife). When it seems catharsis is out of reach for Eugenia, it truly is. While this might seem frustrating for those looking for pat, easy solutions, you can’t blame Boulocq or keeping it as real as he does. If it’s hard for women in these United States where the headlines are currently about Supreme court justice-to-be and alleged sexual predator Brett Kavanaugh (if Clarence Thomas can make it in…), imagine life for a newly separated, woman in her mid-30s in Bolivia who has survived abuse at her ex-husband’s hand.
Earlier this year, Eugenia won the best screenplay prize at the Guadalajara Film Festival (Variety: Women Rule at Guadalajara as ‘Wind Traces,’ ‘Killing Jesus’ Take Big Prizes). The film follows a woman on a journey of reinvention after leaving her abusive husband (Marcelo Galarza), a presence only seen from a distance or from behind. A faceless force of the evil that men do, there’s no love lost, as his actions have shaken the will of Eugenia. Both scarred and inspired, and following a bitter-sweet pep talk from her mother (Alicia Gamio), she ventures to another town to spend time with her father (Ricardo Gumucio) and his new family, the mother (Alejandra Lanza) of her half-brother (Emilio Lanza) is probably around her age, and they don’t take any sort of shine to one another. Family dynamic is presented with a sometimes awkward form self-deprecating humor that never shortchanges Eugenia’s desperate longing to matter to her parents.
Despite interactions with her relatives, Eugenia is a woman alone, and the arid landscapes shot in beautiful black and white by the director serve as constant reminder. She tries to find herself by taking work as a makeup artist for her drag queen friend Álvaro (Álvaro Eid), takes up cooking classes and rashly accepts an offer to be in a film from a creepily enthusiastic man at a bar (Daniel Abud, who also composes the film’s score). He wants her to play the starring role in his next movie: a film focused on Tamara Bunke, aka “Tania the Guerrilla,” the only woman who fought alongside Che Guevara during the Bolivian Insurgency (the brief war killed her and led to the execution of Guevara). The scenes the filmmaker shoots include his muse in full guerrilla garb walking a donkey through busy, contemporary city streets. It makes for a witty inserted surreal image of Eugenia’s plight.
With her vintage cat eye/granny glasses and various tests of femininity, whether its an association with queer images — including a beautifully shot but too brief sequence of Álvaro in full regalia lip-syncing to “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend” and a drunken tryst with a girlfriend — or domesticity, where she rails against a tricky move in the kitchen including a wooden spoon and liquid sugar, Eugenia is the personification of unmoored feminist frustration. The black and white film, which sometimes switches to 4:3 for the film within a film, brings an allegorical feel to these explorations, even if they seem banal or Eugenia seems to watch from the sidelines. Grand gestures are for television and movies, and Eugenia is not trying to be your typical movie with some easy sense of closure. After all, equality and respect among the sexes still has a long way to go.
Eugenia recently had its North American Premiere on Sept. 22 at the AFI Latin American Film Festival. This past Monday, Oct. 1, the film was released in the United States and Mexico via Amazon Prime, as a result of an Amazon distribution grant the film won at the Guadalajara Film Festival. The film will also be available on Google Play in Latin America beginning Thursday, Oct. 4. Miami-based distributor FiGa Films shared an online screener link for the purpose of this review.