Miriam Lies

***1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Miriam Lies
"Both Rodriguez and Rohana deliver delicate, nuanced performances in a story that revolves in large part around friendship." | Photo: Courtesy of Karlovy Vary International Film Festival

"Are you beautiful?" asks Jean-Louis. Miriam (Dulce Rodríguez) is amused. "What if I'm the ugliest girl in the world?" she types back, and Jean-Louis' answer charms her. He seems like the perfect boyfriend, even if they've never met in person or even exchanged pictures. He'll be the one to accompany her to the huge joint party she and best friend Jennifer (Carolina Rohana) have had arranged for their quinceañeras. Or so it seems - until she finds out that he's black.

15 is a tender age at which to face the full weight of racism in a multi-layered society like that of the Dominican Republic, but Miriam has, without ever thinking about it directly, been living with it throughout her life. Her own father was black. Her white Hispanic, class-conscious mother has regretted that relationship ever since. Miriam has grown up with a lot of white privilege but the price has been careful policing. Clothes and make-up are carefully chosen to play down the darkness of her skin. Swimming with Jennifer, she tries to keep her hair from getting wet - her mother will be angry if it springs into its natural tight curls. Every time she does or wants anything that makes her mixed-race status more obvious, her mother disapproves. It's not surprising that she can't begin to approach a question about her appearance straightforwardly. How can she be beautiful when she's barely even acceptable?

It's a slight premise on which to hang a film, but a resonant one. Anybody who has experienced uncertainty about their identity when growing up will find something here to connect with, but it's likely to be much more important to those who are themselves mixed race, especially because there is so little cinema on this subject. Miriam has no support network of her own in this regard. Although she is in contact with her father, he's unhelpful, and her mother's desire to make her a part of white society has left her in a position where she has no black friends. Not knowing how to handle the situation with Jean-Louis in light of her mother's racism and her own internalised prejudice, she embarks on a process of lying that becomes more and more complicated as the night of the party draws near.

The irony at the centre of the film is that it's only once she starts lying that Miriam begins the process of looking at herself and her life honestly, but the film doesn't rely on this or on the drama created by the lies for its substance. Both Rodriguez and Rohana deliver delicate, nuanced performances in a story that revolves in large part around friendship and recognises that it's this, rather than familial or romantic attachments, that is often the single most important connection at this stage in life. It's through the girls' closeness, falling out and efforts to understand one another that the narrative finds its shape, and it's here also that it offers some hope of less stratified, less judgemental world.

Though the direction here leaves something to be desired, with much of the film shot in relentless close-ups that become frustrating and don't add much to its themes, it's a thoughtful examination of a difficult subject and deserving of attention.

Reviewed on: 22 Mar 2019
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Shy girl Miriam is waiting to celebrate her 15th birthday and she wants to invite her guy. So far they’ve only chatted online, and the anticipated blind date only complicates things.


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