Señoritas is the debut feature from Toronto-based filmmaker, Lina Rodriguez. Set in Bogotá, Colombia, the film centres around the social life of Alejandra (María Serrano), who lives with her mother and is undertaking – consciously or otherwise – a series of events and conversations about identity, relationships and the future.
Told in episodic, often single-shot scenes, Alejandra’s experiences are less a causal chain than an almost atemporal assortment of variations on a theme. Each offers insights into her character through her friends, the dialogue she participates in with them (or when she refrains), her mother and family history, and the embodied experience of her private and public life in Bogotá. These moments run the gamut of awkward, funny, drunk, hungover, argumentative and playful, though each unfold in a subtle manner that befits the film’s shuffled card narrative structure, which does not exaggerate each into an Event in the way that, for instance, serialized television would treat the same matters.
The film’s long takes appropriately oscillate between static shots and handheld tracking, contrasting these scenes of preparation or self-investigation and interaction with the outside world. Shots of internal spaces will tend to be locked off, where precise blocking and framing can, for instance, create internal frames that speak to trying on clothes – a symbolic svy of crafting ones identity that is rhymed later in a scene where Alejandra’s mother reveals the historical importance of hot pants and her own social sphere.
Meanwhile, spirited conversations in public or the experience of being a woman traversing a city have an embodied, quasi-haptic quality that is both energetic and also embodying a tension when the topic or game of conversation becomes more heated, or the sounds of the surroundings result in a quickened walking pace. The camera’s movement in these instances is at once attuned to the rhythms of the participants, while also objectifying the characters as it scans across their faces or follows behind. The sometimes inscrutably dark lighting adds to the dual thrill and unease of these moments – a contrast to the sometimes unbearable light accompanying Alejandra’s mother asking for a manifest of her companions’ names. In both cases it gives form to the uncertain place Alejandra finds herself at in her life, accurately conveying the very structured formlessness and temporal drift that occurs between the major life events that drive most films.
Señoritas opens tonight, August 22nd, at TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto and plays nightly at 7pm until Sunday, August 31st. Rodriguez and producer Brad Deane will attend tonight’s screening for an audience Q&A.