The Swedish filmmaker Mikael Wistrom first met the Barrientos family over 30 years ago whilst working on another film in Peru. He remained in contact with them and so heard about the hardships and tough decisions that they were facing. Knowing that their situation represented that of many Peruvian families, he returned to tell their story.
Country of production: Sweden
Running time: 82 mins
Directors: Mikael Wistrom and Alberto Herskovits
Starring: Naty Barrientos
Studio: Manharen film and tv – Ventana Film AB
Rating: 4 stars
Naty is the heart of her family. She is a mother, grandmother and devoted spouse. As the film opens, she makes the difficult decision to leave them all and travel across the Atlantic to Spain. She is at an age where she should be reaping the rewards of years spent working hard, but instead she has found a job as a maid in a Spanish hotel in order to try and ease the financial burdens on her family.
The narrative voice in this documentary is provided by Naty’s daughter, Judith. She is a gentle, artistic soul who keeps a diary to cope with all the pressures surrounding her mother’s departure. She feels shame that she has not gone instead of her mother, as well as the pressure of filling her shoes.
Wistrom and Herskovits have given us a unique insight into family life with an intimacy very rarely achieved on a cinema screen. The film in no way tries to give an explicit social commentary, neither does it pass judgement on the actions of any individual. They have selected footage sensitively and with care so that almost nothing about this story is told explicitly; instead the viewer learns everything about these people through what they see and through snippets of conversation, almost as if we were visitors to the family home.
What comes across most of all is that Naty is an incredible lady with deep reserves of strength. Even when she is far away in Spain, she provides her family with comfort and wisdom in her weekly phone-calls, rarely dwelling on her own difficult and lonely situation. Daniel, her partner and soul-mate, loves her almost painfully deeply and does his best to be both a father and mother to their youngest son. He too is somebody who works hard for very little reward, but still finds the time and energy to take the young boy to the beach and to play with him.
Judith, on the other hand, remains enigmatic and, frustratingly, we don’t really get to know her. Of course, this is a documentary, so the filmmakers have to work with what is really happening, but Judith seems like such a central part of the family and yet it is very difficult to get to know her. With Naty in Spain, the Peruvian side of the story centres very much around the men, leaving Judith as a quiet voice in the background. Whether this was a deliberate decision on the part of the filmmakers or not, the result is slightly jarring.
However, this is a small flaw in an otherwise excellent documentary. It ends without really concluding and there are none of the usual endnotes to tell you what is happening now, but the film makes no apologies for this and it would actually make it feel a bit contrived. This is an honest and frank picture of one family. As brief and as fleeting as one of Naty’s phone calls, it is equally just as precious. It will make you reassess your own values and the things that are important in life.
One family’s story with a universal message, Familia is a documentary which makes you think.
Wanderlust rating: 3 stars
If anything, this is one film which will make you want to rush home and be close to the people you love. It also puts into very sharp perspective the difference between travelling for enjoyment and travelling for necessity. Naty’s experiences of Spain, working as a maid, are very different to someone who goes there for pleasure. But the shots of both Peru and Spain are evocative. They build a sense of place and culture which, as the film draws you in, makes you want to go and experience it for yourself. The whole premise of the film focuses on a journey, being out of place somewhere new, the sense of a foreigner’s identity which every traveller can relate to.