Hija: A Mother and Daughter's Journey through Chile

Traveling the length of Chile in a VW Beetle is the kind of road trip that conjures up idyllic notions of freedom and escape, and the journey undertaken by a Chilean mother and daughter in the documentary Hija (Daughter) envelops these principles in a stong personal resonance. The film sees the two women embark on a quest to uncover their roots which takes them two thousand kilometers in search of long-lost kin while passing through many distinct aspects of Chilean landscape and culture.

 Image courtesy of <em>Hija</em>
Image courtesy of Hija

Eliana Guzman is a woman of around sixty from Temuco, who was adopted as a young child. Her twenty-seven year old daughter Maria Paz Gonzalez has never met her biological father and, having spent her childhood believing in a figure invented by Eliana, has many unanswered questions relating to her background. The film follows the two as both seek to find the families they’ve never known.

Eliana knows that she has a sister who lives in the northern city of Antofagasta, while Maria Paz learns the identity of her father, and the two begin their mission. The film follows them from the beginning of the story arc that emerges from conversations between the pair and with various encounters with outsiders. Both women feel something missing, unable to trace back a line from whence they came, and it is this void which drives them to make contact with the past.

 Image courtesy of <em>Hija</em>
Image courtesy of Hija

The strong bond which exists between Maria Paz and her mother carries the documentary. It is undoubtedly reinforced by the similar circumstances that connect them and the emotional support each provides for the other. They display marked contrasts in their characters, in how they react to events, and the film develops into an intimate story through such moments.

In spite of the love and affection evident in simple gestures such as Eliana applying sunblock to her daughter’s arms, there are also signs of friction. In a telephone conversation, Maria Paz reveals that she rarely visits Temuco, where her mother lives. A later scene shows her admonishing Eliana as cowardly for making up a father figure rather than telling her the truth.

As the film follows their journey from the green countryside of the central-south to the barren vastness of the Atacama Desert, a portrait of Chile’s natural diversity emerges, with grey skies and rural farmland giving way to spectacular desert panoramas. Scenes of roadside fruit-sellers, the heavily-overcast coastline or an eerily empty rustic train station provide a compelling backdrop to the narrative.

 Image courtesy of <em>Hija</em>
Image courtesy of Hija

This is a remarkably honest film in a couple of ways. Firstly, the two women speak with a frank openness and make no attempt to mask their emotions, providing Hija with deeply human traits of sadness and hope. This culminates in a moving scene in which Maria Paz speaks to her father by telephone for the first time in her life, the film’s most powerful moment. In addition, Maria Paz’s ambition to make a film of the journey is regularly mentioned and as such the camera is absorbed into the story, even becoming a key factor in how events pan out. Rather than compromise its integrity, this enhances the natural feel which characterizes the film.

Hija addresses issues of identity, companionship, womanhood, and responsibility, and centers on themes with which many can relate. It is a simple and heartfelt film that never seeks to influence or prejudice its audience’s view and thus gains genuine empathy for the main protagonists. The arresting imagery of Chilean scenery and a touching story make this the latest in a long line of excellent documentaries to come out of the country in recent years.

Hija (Maria Paz Gonzalez, Chile, 2011)

playing now at:
Centro Arte Alameda
Av. Libertador Bernado O'Higgins 139
Metro Baquedano

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lg774wktofc

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