Forgotten Roads


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Forgotten Roads
"Ríos is superb in the lead, revealing a natural sensuality that we rarely get to see in older actresses yet never allowing us to doubt the strength that lies behind it." | Photo: Courtesy of Newfest

Sometimes, in the skies around Lautaro, bright lights appear, dazzling the people on the ground. 'Our friends from the skies,' a radio presenter calls them. Nobody knows what they are or what they signify. Local preachers try to weave them into a religious narrative. Others wonder if some kind of invasion is imminent. Are they living in the last days? The air seems potent with change.

This is not a science fiction film. The lights are more important as metaphor; no aliens are needed to bring about change. Claudina (Rosa Ramírez Ríos) is 70. Her husband has recently died. Did she love him? She's not sure, but he was a good companion. We see his absence on the bench outside the door of their little country house, in the empty chair by the fireside. Claudina has the support of neighbours but she can't remain here, can't manage the turkey farm by herself and spend so much time in aching silence. So when her grandson Cristóban geneously offers to make room for her in his bedroom, she moves to Lautaro (where writer/director Nicol Ruiz Benavides grew up) to live with him and her daughter Alejandra.

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It's easy to feel, at that age and alone in a strange place, that life is over, or that one should retreat into a purely supporting role, there to serve the needs of others. Perhaps Claudina has had enough of that over all those years as a wife, farmer and mother. Perhaps it's just that being in a town - even a fairly small one - opens up new opportunities. She doesn't seem to be at the end of something but, rather, at the start. If that's not immediately clear to her, it certainly becomes clear when she meets neighbour Elsa (Romana Satt) and finds herself falling in love.

A tender, lyrical tale of self discovery late in life, Forgotten Roads is partly a romance and partly about the process of opening up and readjusting her priorities that Claudina goes through in her new environment. Walking into local LGBTQ bar Porvenir ('The Future') for the first time, she is entranced by the expressions of love and desire that she sees all around her, and by the sense of freedom that this brings. Age is no barrier here. She develops a friendship with the elderly owner, who is perhaps a gay man and perhaps a trans woman, a person whose self expression has been interrupted by prejudice and whom she tries to coax out into the wider world. Similarly, she bounds with a young woman who is beginning to assert her identity for the first time, finding joy in the love that flows through this outsider community.

This is a small, intensely Catholic town, and there's plenty of prejudice around, not least in Alejandra, who is scandalised by her mother's behaviour. This, too, changes something in Claudina, who begins to assert herself and demand respect from the world. She is an older woman just beginning to understand that she has a right to take up space.

Ríos is superb in the lead, revealing a natural sensuality that we rarely get to see in older actresses yet never allowing us to doubt the strength that lies behind it. She makes us believe in the quiet, patient woman Claudina has been but also in what she can become. Benavides takes it slowly, developing the atmosphere of the town and the different experiences it offers, whilst characters talk about getting away. Claudina has always wanted to travel. The lights in the sky seem to signify endless possibility.

A real treat from Newfest 2020, forgotten Roads deserves to be remembered.

Reviewed on: 27 Oct 2020
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A lonely widow from the countryside moves in with her daughter in a small, conservative town, and falls in love with an independent married woman who sings in a bar.

Director: Nicol Ruiz Benavides

Writer: Nicol Ruiz Benavides

Starring: Romana Satt, Gabriela Arancibia, Claudia Devia, Raúl López Leyton, Cristóbal Ruiz

Year: 2020

Runtime: 71 minutes

Country: Chile

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