18 year-old Blanquita (Laura López) has lived her short life in and out of shelters and group homes. A victim of child sex trafficking, she is finally in a position to testify against one of Chile’s most powerful politicians. With every question asked of her, however, her claims become harder to believe and her life appears to shift further into danger.
Fernando Guzzoni’s political thriller Blanquita is a powerful and disturbing work. It is inspired in part by a true story, the so-called ‘Spiniak case’ in which several Chilean politicians were implicated in a child sex ring. For viewers in Chile, Guzzoni’s film will likely resonate with those familiar with the original case. For an international audience – Blanquita is Chile’s entry for the 2023 Best International Feature Oscar – it is an impressively restrained and provocative film in its own right. It is a miserable fact that stories of women seeking justice against sexual assault inside a hostile legal system will have an immediate relevance in almost any cultural context. We have all read of cases like Blanquita’s whether we are familiar with Spiniak or not.
Guzzoni has written and directed his film in a responsible manner. We do not see any of the abuse that is purported to have occurred, instead hearing about it via testimony from various witnesses and victims. The film’s focus is instead on characters and repercussions. The men who deny having done anything of which they have been accused are not only unrepentant but powerful. They are well-connected and well-protected. Blanquita is a teen mother with a baby to care for. She is impoverished and powerless. While much of the film takes place in closed, dingy rooms and corridors, and is dominated by dialogue, an overwhelming sense of menace lingers like a miasma over every moment. It fast becomes a haunting, paranoid nightmare.
Laura López is excellent in the title role, delivering an overlapping range of emotions and a great amount of depth. She walks a tightrope over the audience: too soft and she might seem weak and banal. Too strong and she might lose the audience’s sympathy altogether. Instead she strikes the perfect balance. Can we trust her? Maybe, and perhaps not, but thanks to López we definitely want to.
As the supportive mentor figure Father Manuel, Alejandro Goic is a strong and heavily principled man. He is, in essence, on a crusade. Like Blanquita his character has plenty of ambiguity as well as an innately sympathetic air. It is a wonderful performance.
These complex characters are necessary for a complex, uncertain story. As the popular saying goes: do the ends justify the means? Can lies be forgiven if they lead to the truth? There is an engaging sense of grey to Blanquita: people are not always purely good or bad, and the good ones do not always succeed against the bad. This slow-burn blend of legal drama, political thriller, and character study is powerful stuff.
Blanquita opens today, 9 December 2022, in New York and Los Angeles.