Nicaragua | 2014 | 93 min.
Director: Florence Jaugey
Genre: Drama
Spanish with English subtitles

Monday, April 20, 2015, 8:45 pm at AMC River East 21 Theatre

Wednesday, April 22, 2015, 9:00 pm at AMC River East 21 Theatre

Everyone agreed that, for a little girl, my sister was very mature for her age. She must’ve been 8 or 9 when she first learned to whistle, and she got pretty good at it, too. Her repertoire was comprised mostly of nursery rhymes and the theme songs to popular kids’ shows and novelas. Most of my family were impressed by her obviously God-given talent. Except my grandma.

Eso no se hace las niñas,” she’d say with a wrinkly frown, half sad and half disgusted.

There’s a double standard for men and woman, of course — vast differences in the way each is perceived and expected to behave. It’s at least twice as bad in Latino culture, in which machismo and marianismo enforce a strict code of conduct on the sexes, generally demanding that men be aggressive and women be submissive.

In Florence Jaugey’s La pantalla desnuda (The Naked Screen), Esperanza is dealt a hard reminder of just how unfair Latino society can be toward its women — especially its young women — when a video of her having sex with her beau Alex is posted to a site for everyone in her town to see. The recording wasn’t her idea. It was Alex’s. And those who view the video are fully aware Esperanza’s unwillingness. But that doesn’t absolve her in the eyes of the locals, who are quick to label her a slut and use her as such.

The film raises the phenomenon of slut-shaming but then seems to give a slight, approving nod to it. Only two characters clearly come to Esperanza’s defense: Alex and, surprisingly, her mother. When Alex’s dad berates him for fretting over the hurt feelings of so whorish a girl as Esperanza, Alex wonders what year his dad is living in. A local seamstress suggests Esperanza may not be as pure as her mother believes her to be, to which her mom fires back, “No, she’s still pure!”

Notwithstanding these two voices of fairness and progressiveness, Esperanza ends up the biggest loser in this Shakespearean plot, playing Desdemona to Alex’s Othello. Just underneath the surface of this film lie questions of class (and possibly racial) resentment, which helps make for some cringeworthy acting and a spare script. It also offers a good glimpse at what life is like for young adults in Nicaragua. (I’ve only been to Honduras which, granted, isn’t communist. But I still recognized a lot of features.)

Overall, I enjoyed La pantalla desnuda more than I thought. The movies raises important issues — even if the way in which those issues are presented makes your blood boil.

[Image: Chicago Latino Film Festival]

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