Political chaos, social instability, kidnapped infants, and under-the-table corruption, Song Without a Name covers all of the aforementioned material with deft skill and care. Based on a true story that was exposed to the public by the director’s own father, Song Without a Name explores the tensions and chaos of 1980s Peru, and a Kafkaesque nightmare about the grinding wheels of bureaucracy being used for evil purposes.
Georgina (Pamela Mendoza) is a poor Quechuan woman who travels everyday from her destitute house situated on the outskirts of Lima, down towards the marketplace in order to sell potatoes for a meager living. Upon hearing an ad for a clinic that provides free childbirth services, she heads there to deliver her daughter. But when she gives birth, the infant is taken away for “health checks”, never to be returned. Georgina is rudely kicked out of the fraudulent clinic, which also vanishes. Without a way to find her child, Georgina and her husband Leo (Lucio Rojas) turn to a young journalist Pedro (Tommy Párraga), who dedicates himself to revealing the wicked system of infant kidnapping and selling of children to overseas couples, which was oftentimes an aided scheme by the Peruvian government.
León expertly frames this harrowing tale in classic Academy ratio and moody, smoky black-and-white visuals, aided by her cinematographer Inti Briones. It’s a deeply sorrowful film that feels like the celluloid equivalent of the melodic wail of a mother separated from her child; all tied together by Mendoza’s utterly heartbreaking performance. The film is deeply indebted to indigenous and colonial Peruvian culture, crafting a mesmerizing portrait of a woman stuck in a never-ending nightmare, as her home country slowly descends into hell. It ends on a forlorn note – one that will linger on for an eternity.
Song Without a Name screened at the 55th Chicago International Film Festival as part of the Cinema of the Americas, Global Currents, and Women in Cinema programs. The film will screen again on Friday October 25th at 6:15pm, and on Saturday October 26th at 12:30pm at AMC River East 21.