In ‘The Eternal Night of the Twelve Moons,’ director Priscilla Padilla grants viewers exclusive access into the life of Pili and her indigenous community of Wayuu people. Pili is a ten year old Wayuu girl in Maicao, La Guajira, Colombia, who is about to commence a sacred custom. Pili must be secluded in a small hut from the rest of the settlement for the duration of eight to twelve months in order to become a woman in her culture. Through conversations with Pili’s elders, we are given the story of creation, the birth of man and woman, and most essential point of a woman’s life, her first menstruation. We learn that this is the reason for seclusion and the key to the passage of womanhood. In her period of isolation, Pilli must learn the art of weaving, she must connect with nature and understand the changes that have to come from herself in order to become a Wayuu woman.
From the very beginning of the film we are informed that Pili’s seclusion is becoming uncommon for the Wayuu women. The tradition’s presence is up against today’s society, and not all Wayuu women have wanted to continue it, even though the seclusion heightens a woman’s value tremendously in their culture. These women that do not follow the Wayuu way are soon considered Ariguna or non-Wayuu and are looked down upon. The tension and anxiety to keep old ways is apparent in the women Pili associates with, and even leads the viewer to consider whether the seclusion is what Pili genuinely wants.
Beautiful and shy Pili seems thrown into the ordeal and this causes the viewer to really question the ancient custom, especially once she has been living in the hut for several weeks. At times, Pili’s boredom, melancholy, and sullen behavior make the custom seem extremely dated and unnecessary. There are many women invested in reassuring Pili that she is being true to her culture and they emphasize how vital and important it is to overcome this phase in her life. Not only is the pressure troublesome, but the future doesn’t look very promising for Pili either.
Once completing the seclusion state, we learn that Pili turns into a precious, potential bride for any man with sufficient bridal gifts. One almost cringes at the rights being ignored in the film. However, before getting upset over Pili’s destined path, we realize that old customs do not always prevail and instead Pili makes a decision that gives today’s Latinas pride and hope.
The film plays tug o’ war with old customs and one’s contemporary beliefs. Although there is beauty in traditions, choices should not be (and are not) sacrificed.
In terms of filmmaking, as soon as the film starts you are impacted with imagery of the Colombian coastal landscape, as well as the ocean wind. The senses are immediately stimulated, especially sound, and this continues throughout the film. The effort and labor in getting the ambiance of the environment is definitely notable. Needless to say, sound designer Vladmir Diaz did a marvelous job.
In addition to the sound, the images of daily domestic life and the scenery of the Wayaan people were electrifying, although camera filters and slow motion were not needed. The film also barely makes it to the “too long” point.
Nonetheless, having recently traveled to Colombia and been cultured in indigenous Colombian groups, I knew this was a film I had to see. We often hear about Mexican, Central American, Brazilian, or other indigenous communities, but it’s not everyday where a film about Colombia’s gets made. The striking ocean breezes and tumultuous nights transported me back to the coastal landscape of the gorgeous country and its particular feeling of history in the land.
Apart from being awakened through the senses, the film was thoroughly enlightening and intriguing. I may not have gone through Pili’s specific metamorphosis, but there are still aspects of tradition versus changing Latino customs I contemplate about in my life, as I’m sure many others do as well. We may take selfies, get divorces, or choose not to have quinceaňeras, but the understanding of a tradition’s value and significance is recognized and not forgotten. This is what I saw behind Pili’s bashful smile. There is no doubt that director Priscilla Padilla really cares about being true to the Wayuu people, the women and their customs. Watching Pili scatter around a young boy in a traditional Wayuu dance, you realize that you are witnessing something rare and important.
If you are interested in learning about customs and lives of women in other parts of the world, ‘The Eternal Night of Twelve Moons’ is definitely worth watching.