Song Without a Name (4 stars)

Song Without a Name

GFF 2020: Melina León steers this powerful Peruvian drama based on a real-life child trafficking scandal

Set in 1988, Song Without a Name is inspired by a child trafficking scandal that rocked Peru towards the end of the 20th century. Georgina Condori (Pamela Mendoza), a pregnant Quechua woman living on the outskirts of Lima, hears a radio ad promising free medical care and is lured to a shady clinic. There she gives birth and her baby is quickly taken away. Told to leave despite her protests, Georgina returns the next day to collect her newborn and finds the clinic has disappeared. What begins is a bureaucratic nightmare that morphs into a detective story, as Georgina seeks the help of journalist Pedro Campos (Tommy Párraga).

Working alongside cinematographer Inti Briones, debut feature director Melina León relays events in moody black-and-white in a boxy 4:3 ratio, carefully and artfully composing each frame, constructing a Kafkaesque ordeal where babies disappear and mothers become embroiled in red tape. There's an obvious comparison to be made with Alfonso Cuarón's Roma, not only superficially, as they share a monochromatic hue and indigenous female lead, but thematically, as both films explore pregnancy, corruption and domesticity. However, León is more interested in cultivating atmosphere than anything plot-driven. At points, Song Without a Name threatens to become wrapped up in an occasionally incomprehensible language of poetic imagery. A little more context into the politics of 1980s Peru would have given a deeper understanding of Georgina's situation.

Despite some opaqueness, León's direction is impressive and, enhanced by an eerie, avant-garde score by Pauchi Sasaki, a tale of personal and national melancholy is crafted. One sophisticated shot choice is particularly memorable: after Georgina gives birth, she isn't permitted to see the newborn, and neither is the audience. Like our protagonist, we're in the dark, confused and concerned by what's just happened in this terrifying world.

Screening on Thu 5 and Fri 6 Mar as part of the Glasgow Film Festival 2020. General release TBC.

Song Without a Name

  • 4 stars
  • 2019
  • 1h 37min
  • Directed by: Melina León
  • Cast: Pamela Mendoza, Tommy Párraga, Lucio Rojas

Georgina (Mendoza) is a pregnant Quechua woman in 1988 Peru, whose newborn baby is taken away from her; next day, the clinic where it happened has gone too. Based on a true story, it’s a bureaucratic nightmare that morphs into a detective story, and if it could have used fewer poetic flourishes and more political context…