Sunday, June 13, 2021

Tribeca with Abe: Perfume de Gardenias

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections virtually from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which runs June 9th-20th.

Perfume de Gardenias
Directed by Macha Colón
Viewpoints – Screening Information

The loss of a life partner creates obvious changes in a person’s routine. The effects are felt even more if a relationship has been longstanding and become the only remembered way of existence. What someone chooses to do to fill their time may be only a slight modification of what they did before, or it can involve a more drastic and recognizable shift designed to amplify distraction and provide a venue for activity and energy. In some cases, it may also relate directly to the absence of that partner, brought about by their departure and selected due to newfound availability.

Isabel (Luz Maria Rondon) has lived her whole life in Puerto Rico, and cares dutifully for her husband. When he dies, she must plan the funeral, and, in her grief, manages to create a beautiful presentation for the service. Toña (Sharon Riley), a devout religious woman in the community, takes note of her talents and enlists Isabel to join her crew of elderly women who step in to plan the most aesthetically-pleasing arrangements when people die. As Isabel finds most of her time taken up with this public service, she learns unexpected things about what the group does and their work in her neighborhood.

This film stands out in that it doesn’t feature any younger characters aside from Isabel’s adult daughter, with whom she has a less than perfect relationship. Isabel is the film’s stoic and very calm protagonist, rarely registering much emotion and instead going along with her involuntary enlistment in Toña’s crew, where all are subservient to her and forced to do whatever it is that she commands. Her motivations aren’t entirely clear other than that she wants to be considered in high regard, and Isabel isn’t someone who bothers to ask questions to get to the root of what’s going on since she just hasn’t taken much agency in her life, instead following those around her and blending in.

This is a subdued and slow-moving story, one that includes few quick cuts and instead dwells on the lonely monotony that Isabel experiences both as she cares for her husband at the beginning of the film and once she has considerably less to occupy her time. Toña is a much bolder and louder character, one who invigorates the film with a blast of ferocious, controlling energy, pushing it closer to dark, unsettling drama than its otherwise passive and neutral plot has been up until that point. It’s ultimately an odd, somewhat eerie experience, one that manages to be intriguing but not entirely fulfilling.


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