Film Review: Abuelos
The search for oneself often begins in the past. In the case of Carla Valencia Davila, that search begins with the distinct lives of both her maternal and paternal grandfathers, two men that were the center stone of her family and became the inspiration for her first documentary film Abuelos.
Exploring the lives of Remo Davila, an Ecuadorian self-taught doctor, and Juan Valencia, a communist militant assassinated during the Chilean military dictatorship in 1973, this enthralling film begs the question: how much can we know about ourselves through examining the lives of others?
Shot in Ecuador and Chile, the film smartly pieces the lives of both men together, using images of the desert landscape, the sea and the lush greenery of both countries to transition from one man’s story to the other. A powerful narration by Valencia Davila and interviews with family and friends captivates the men’s importance in the lives of everyone they encountered.
Although the film attempts to give the same allotted time to each man’s story, Juan’s story becomes the most captivating. Part of the Chilean Unidad Popular, the left wing communist party that stood behind Salvador Allende’s presidential election in 1970, Juan was captured and placed in a concentration camp in Pisagua after the military coup in 1973. He was killed soon after.
His death took a measurable toll on his family, as interviews with his sons and daughter, including Valencia Davila’s father, showcase a battle between letting go and holding on. His story seems to be the most important in Valencia Davila’s personal journey, as she discovers a man she never knew but nonetheless has shaped her existence.
But Abuelos is more than a family’s history—it is an exploration of the tortured history of a country, the belief that magic exists and the undeniable connection between life and death. As we see Valencia Davila discover the mysteries of the grandfather she never met, and describe the medical miracles of her grandfather Remo, we, the audience, are challenged to think of our own history, our own families and rediscover ourselves.
Abuelos is part of the Women in Film series of the Chicago Latino Film Festival, running from April 13 to April 26 in selected theaters. For more information visit chicagolatinofilmfestival.org