Leading Ladies


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Leading Ladies
"Caudeli has a talent that goes beyond the mere provision of puzzles." | Photo: Courtesy of Inside Out

Improvisation is a great way to tell a story onscreen. It feels natural, fluid, human. Why isn't it why it used more frequently? One major reason is that it leads all too easily to characters contradicting each other, and it makes it hard to produce multiple takes which can be edited seamlessly together. But what if that's the effect you want?

For a long time, scientists studying memory assumed that it ran like a film. Today we know that what our brains actually do is to retain what seem like the most important pieces of memory and then fill in the gaps. As a consequence, we don't all remember things in the same way. Told in five segments, each one with its own leading lady, Ruth Caudeli's follow-up to Second Star On The Right (which also starred Diana Wiswell and Silvia VarĂ³n) plays out like five memories of the same dinner party. Nothing that happens there is quite what it seems on the surface, and it's only as we put the pieces together that we can make sense of (most of) what happens there.

Each of the woman has a secret; each, rightly or wrongly, is carrying a measure of guilt. Marce (Marcela Robledo) has spent a whole two months doing something other than what she claims. But Caudeli has a talent that goes beyond the mere provision of puzzles. She's interested in deeper questions. Why do these women continue to spend time together when there's no real feeling of trust between them? Is it just habit, or is there something else that binds them? And what is the real nature and purpose of the guilt they feel?

There are obvious underlying themes here: the self-hatred that many women are raised with, the shame felt by many lesbian and bisexual women in a homophobic society even after coming out. There's also a more general sense of shame around sex and sexual activity. All the other women voice their objections to Silvia's gratuitous descriptions of sexual activity with her boyfriend, but none of them are chaste, and even in Silvia's case that talk may be a cover for something else. The matters which they feel most strongly about are largely excluded from the conversation. Can any of them solve the puzzle this presents and begin to answer those deeper questions, to get past their guilt and find a more sincere connection?

Naturally the film's structure requires the repetition of these scenes, but the small differences between them - and the sometimes significant shifts in tone - make this intriguing rather than irritating. Caudeli is also smart enough to leave a few loose ends, emphasising thereby that these friendships are a work in progress; in real life, there no completely tidy endings. A quintet of confident performances mean that there's never a moment when the film risks losing its grip. We are left wondering what Caudeli will do next.

Reviewed on: 06 Jun 2021
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Leading Ladies packshot
A reflection on how different perspectives and memories affect one group of queer women.

Director: Ruth Caudeli

Starring: Diana Wiswell, Silvia Varón, Ana María Cuellar, Marcella Robledo, Ana María Otálora

Year: 2021

Runtime: 81 minutes

Country: Colombia

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