Pepa San Martín / Chile / 2016 / 92 mins
As part of the Edinburgh Spanish Film Festival
Inspired by the real-life case of a Chilean judge who lost custody of her children due to her sexual orientation, on paper Rara has all the hallmarks of a dry, legal drama. In reality, it’s a charming, honest film which accurately depicts the foibles of family life, as well as the swelling confusion and excruciating embarrassment of adolescence. It discusses LGBT issues, sure; but with 12-year-old Sara as the lens through which we view it, it’s more about her own particular struggle.
With a name that clearly rhymes with the title (“weird”, in English), you’d maybe expect Sara’s classmates to indulge in some easy bullying taunts, but nothing of the sort transpires. Indeed, from what we’re shown, all of her classmates (and the vast majority of the adults) are accommodating and understanding of her mother’s sexual preferences. Almost all of the homophobic actions are inferred rather than portrayed; it’s people’s reactions and interpretations of Sara’s perfectly normal teenage angst which highlight the society as intolerant, rather than any outward show of prejudice.
However, writer Alicia Scherson and director Pepa San Martín are careful not to make things too clear cut for the viewer. The girls’ father, though a little frigid and austere in his manner, clearly cares deeply for the children and is suspicious that their current environment might not be the most suitable for them – whether due to homophobic motives or not, we can’t be sure. There are certainly glimpses that things are just a little too bohemian at home (an all-night party, increasingly short tempers, a moment of forgetfulness at the office) but surely not enough to warrant a court case, which is where the bias may begin.
As for the actors themselves, it’s a superb showing from everyone on board. Julia Lübbert gives a hugely impressive performance as the angst-ridden Sara, appearing in the majority of the scenes and exuding a natural ability far beyond her years. Her younger sister Cata (played with brilliant attention-seeking smugness by Emilia Ossandon) is gifted the best lines in the script time and time again and delivers each with perfect comedic timing, while Mariana Loyola, Agustina Muñoz and Daniel Muñoz are all convincingly well-meaning in their (sometimes slipshod) efforts at parenting.
Rara ticks all of the boxes for a film of this kind: it opens up can after can of worms about societal attitudes towards non-hetero relationships, it delves into the deeply painful experience of growing up and it presents an honest, endearing portrait of family life which is recognisable the world over. Navigating heavy subject matter with nimble charisma and charm, it’s a joy to watch during and a substantial source of contemplation long after the final curtain has fallen.