CHILE: Rara (2016)

A Child’s Perspective

by Anna Geibler

In 2002, Chilean judge and mother of three, Karen Atala Riffo and her husband divorced and mutually agreed that Atala Riffo would maintain custody of their three daughters. A couple of years later, Atala Riffo’s girlfriend moved into their home, which resulted in her ex-husband filing for custody of their children, on the basis that the mother’s lesbian relationship would be harmful to their daughters. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court of Chile, who gave custody to the father, claiming “that the mother’s sexuality would cause irreversible harm to the children’s development” (LII).

In the film Rara (2016), Chilean director Pepa San Martín took inspiration from this case to create the film Rara. Rara does not follow the mother’s story, nor the father’s, and shows none of the custody battle on screen. Rather, Rara follows the story of freshly 13-year-old Sara, and her pubescent world of crushes, dealing with her little sister Cata, planning a birthday party, and petty fights with mom. In the background of all this, lies the ongoing battle between her parents, due to her mother’s relationship with a woman. Rara successfully captures the viewpoint of a tween, with most of the dialogue related to Sara’s parents being placed in the back of a scene, or only briefly mentioned. Since Sara is so young, she does not see or hear everything that goes on behind closed doors, and neither do we as the audience.

In this video essay, I chose to highlight the scenes in the film that capture how Sara as the protagonist sets the tone for the movie. In an interview to promote the film, actress Mariana Loyola, who plays Paula the mother, explains “the point of the view of the movie is her (gesturing to Sara’s actress Julia Lübbert), that is the interesting thing about the movie, it’s not an adult perspective, it’s a child’s perspective”. Through this perspective, the movie explores familiar relationships and the experience of growing up with a non-traditional home life. It highlights how adults in Sara’s life weaponize her own struggles with growing up to fit their own prejudices. It shows how kids slowly begin to inherit these prejudices from role models in their lives, and how they combat or accept these issues.

Another major aspect of the film is the mother-daughter relationship. Sara and Cata are unique in that they have three mother figures in their life, their biological mother Paula, Paula’s girlfriend Lía, and their father’s new wife, Nicole. Like most girls her age, Sara has many on-screen squabbles with her mother Paula, and in her immaturity and innocence, her complaints against her mother to her father snowball into growing tension and eventually a custody war between the two. What her prejudiced father, who isn’t made into a villain but rather a man acting out of love in hateful ways, fails to understand is that Sara is perfectly happy and healthy living with Paula and Lía. The movie contrasts scenes with Sara sharing sweet moments with her moms and sisters, with arguments and pressure coming from her dad and grandfather, to show the highs and lows of growing up, especially with a divorce.

In 1997, American film critic Phillip Lopate wrote a piece for the New York Times titled When the I In a Film Is a Childs. In this piece, he writes about how few films revolving the inner life of a child tackle serious issues, saying, “What is more difficult for the film artist is to render a child not as symbol but as complex, flawed individual, groping to make sense of the world.” (Lopate). This encapsulates exactly what I believe director Pepa San Martin does with the character of Sara, and with Rara as a whole. Sara is tasked with carrying the weight of both her father’s insistence on her leaving the mother, and her mother’s insistence on her father’s ignorance and exploitation tactics. She is tasked with explaining to her sister why they can’t talk about their mother’s girlfriend. She is pressured at school to prove herself as straight, to fit in. Rara is not about a custody battle, but rather the everyday battles of growing up, where childhood is forced to be left behind due to societal pressure. Sara as the protagonist serves as the perfect critique of how society pressures young woman to fit a heteronormative, idealized mold at the cost of their innocence and youth.

Works Cited