Review by Sean Boelman
Some of the best Latin American films have been those that have found optimism in the underbelly of society. This is the case with Laura Baumeister de Montis’s Daughter of Rage, the first ever narrative feature to be directed by a Nicaraguan woman, a moving if often generic drama.
The movie tells the story of an eleven-year-old girl and her mother who are separated as they struggle to make a living in Nicaragua’s largest landfill. We’ve seen plenty of films about families from low-income communities struggling, but since the issue persists, it’s important that we continue to have this conversation.
One of the main things that this movie talks about is the system of indentured labor that still happens shockingly frequently in Latin American countries. Although the film clearly depicts the harm that this system causes to the people involved in it, it still doesn’t feel like a strong enough indictment of the society that let it happen.
There are certainly some moments in the movie that are quite emotional and harrowing, but they are more effective individually than they are as a cohesive unit. At several moments throughout the film, viewers will be left feeling thoroughly depressed at what they are watching, but all too often, it struggles with familiarity.
The area in which the movie struggles the most is its character development. The audience will undeniably connect with the protagonist because of her plight, but the supporting characters are all extremely shallow. Every antagonist in the film is almost cartoonish, and the relationship the protagonist has with her is a thoroughly conventional arc.
Ana Alejandra Medal’s performance in the leading role is pretty great, and is a large part of what makes the movie work so well. For such a young actress who has no other prior credits to her name, her performance is extraordinarily nuanced and complex, and she is able to carry the film on her back despite relative inexperience.
There are also some very stark visuals in the movie, largely dependent on the contrast between the stark reality of the landfill setting and the beauty of the cinematography. Like so many other films about people in low-income communities, the movie is about finding the beauty in the most unlikely of places.
Daughter of Rage is far from a perfect film, but for what it is, it’s pretty solid. The use of imagery and strong acting make up for the occasionally generic writing to create a movie that is generally pretty affecting.
Daughter of Rage screened at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival, which ran September 8-18.