Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

"Captures the way that when you're living in a stressful situation, even a moment of respite can seem like a curve ball." | Photo: Courtesy of La Semaine de la Critique

"Not everything is within our control."

This phrase, spoken at the midway point of Franco Lolli's Litigante, which opened Cannes Critics' Week, resonates through the whole film. Beyond the frame, it also captures the emotional essence of the stoic helplessness many people feel when faced with a family member's terminal illness - and for that reason should, perhaps, be approached with caution by those currently caring for a sick relative or recently bereaved.

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Within the confines of the film, very little feels in control to Silvia (Carolina Sanín), whose life in Bogota, Colombia, is operating on hot and cold running stress. A single mum of a young son (Antonio Martínez), her own mother Leticia (played by Lolli's mum Leticia Gómez) has terminal lung cancer, not that it's stopped her from regular verbal sparring matches with her eldest daughter. Work also offers no respite, as Silvia is facing a corruption investigation over the awarding of a public sector construction contract.

These aspects of her life, along with a potential relationship with radio journalist Abel (Vladimir Durán) float in and out of focus as Lolli concentrates on Silvia herself as she tries to keep on keeping on. The director - who co-wrote the script with Marie Amachoukeli and Virginie Legeay - captures the way that when you're living in a stressful situation, even a moment of respite can seem like a curve ball, as Silvia begins to question the good as well as the bad.

Like last year's The Heiresses, which also featured non-professional actresses, the performances here are a revelation. Sanín is a writer by trade and Gómez a retired lawyer but they are both naturals on film, plunging fully into the family dynamic. They perfectly capture the way that friction can still continue despite illness, while the sharp scripting shows how sickness, while affecting someone physically, generally doesn't alter their approach to life. Durán and Alejandra Sarria, as Silvia's sister Majo, also provide strong low-key support that feels emotionally on the money, with the writing team avoiding easy dynamics, in general, in favour of complexity in relationships that feels true to life.

Although the conversations between Silvia and Leticia are often quick-fire and dense, they generally avoid melodramatic falseness, bubbling less with anger than with the frustrations that family arguments often generate. They also capture something of the repetitive nature of these kinds of squabbles, as each woman knows exactly which buttons to press. Lolli has a looseness to his direction that adds to the vérité feel and he has a knack for capturing the natural moments children can create that often pass unnoticed - such a round of Christmas glass 'chinking' and high-fiving in a hospital ward or the energy of unexpected hug. Lolli, like his protagonist, has a lot going on, but you never doubt either's ability to emerge intact.

Reviewed on: 15 May 2019
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In Bogota, Silvia, a single mum and a lawyer, is implicated in a corruption scandal. At the same time she is trying to cope with her sick mum.

Director: Franco Lolli

Writer: Franco Lolli, Marie Amachoukeli, Virginie Legeay

Starring: Carolina Sanin, Leticia Gomez, Antonio Martinez and Alejandra Sarria.

Year: 2019

Runtime: 93 minutes

Country: Colombia, France


Cannes 2019

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