Jimena Monteoliva’s horror flick Clementina opens to find Juana, pregnant and unconscious on the floor of her flat, lying in a pool of blood. She wakes up in a hospital three days later. She has lost the baby and a social worker and police officer are at her bedside ready to ask her questions about the incident that left her bleeding to death. Her neighbour saw her husband Mateo leaving that night. They want to know if he was one who beat her and fled but she refuses to say anything.
Juana returns home and begins to put the pieces of her life back together. Her body, still in recovery, reminds her of the life she once had inside her. She goes back to work before her maternity leave ends. The social worker calls her and the officer stops by but there has been no word from Mateo. However, Juana begins to hear footsteps and other noises in her home. The incidences intensify. Shadows appear in doorways, a child’s laughter can be heard and a balls rolls from what would have been the baby’s room. Are all of these events really happening or are they sign of a break in Juana’s psyche.
Monteoliva’s film is spurred on by the gross reality and frequency of domestic abuse in her native Argentina. Just as in the film many times the men leave the city and justice is never delivered for the victims of the crime. The suffering does not end with physical healing either. These attacks have long lasting effects and lie as a dark shadow over the victims for as long as the rest of their lives. One may see that visually in Clementina as Juana’s flat is almost always dark inside despite the open windows. Juana is shrouded by darkness for most of the film, like an emotional tomb.
None of this could have been achieved if it were not for Cecilia Cartasegna’s terrific performance as Juana. From her silent scream when first she wakes up and discovers that she has lost her baby to her audible howls of anguish at the end she bears the emotional and physical weight of Clementina on her shoulders. When Mateo finally returns home and we see that the pattern of emotional abuse will continue and potentially lead back into physical abuse we sense that her breaking point is near and if justice is to be had then Juana will have to take it upon herself to enact it.
Which leads us to the harrowing conclusion of Clementina and some scissor work from Cartasegna the likes of which that has not been seen since Charlotte Gainsbourg got crazy with a pair in Von Trier’s Antichrist (or I simply haven’t been paying close attention to such tools of destruction and mutilation since then). And though Juana’s fate may appear to be up in the air by the end of the movie Monteoliva knows how Juana’s story and suffering ends.
Not only in Argentina but anywhere else more has to be done to protect and heal the victims, as much as more has to be done to bring offenders to justice. My heart just sank during the climax when the police officer breaks into the apartment to rescue Juana and as he detains Mateo he says that he ‘may’ be serving jail time. ‘May’ be serving jail time.
With artistic choices that convey continued suffering and isolation, when Monteoliva said that the 1965 film Repulsion was an influence it immediately made sense to me. Backed by Cartasegna’s strong performance, supported by the sleazy performance by Emiliano Carrazzone as Mateo, I do not believe that the message is that victims have to take justice into their own hands, this is the extreme. But the victim’s suffering may be never ending and it is not only physical.
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