Morbido 2018 Review: QUIÉN TE CANTARÁ, Music, Mirrors, and Memory
Spanish writer/director Carlos Vermut has an unusual imagination. In his first feature film, Diamond Flash, a fantastical drama, five women circled each other with dangerous secrets and kidnappings; in his second, Magical Girl, neo-noir mixes with black comedy as a man in desperate need of money, tries to bribe a rich yet mentally unstable woman with ties to a strange BDSM community. In his third feature, Quién Te Cantará (which translates as ‘who will sing to you’), Vermut combines Hitchcock-style mystery with Bergman-esque crisis of identity.
Lila (Najwa Nimri), a famous pop star, is about to embark on her first tour in years. On the eve of it, however, Lila has an accident, and when she wakes up in hospital, she can't remember who she was, and more importantly to her manager Blanca (Carme Elias), she can't remember any of her songs. While memorizing music and lyrics is relatively easy, it is the persona of Lila Cassen, what the audience wants to see, that has been lost, and if she can't tour, Lila will be bankrupt.
But while looking at videos of herself online, Lila discovers Violeta (Éva Llorach), a woman in a nearby town whose karaoke performances of Lila's songs are so accurate that should could almost be mistaken for the singer herself. And so (after checking to make sure she is trustworthy), Blanca hires Violeta to teach Lila how to be Lila Cassen, the pop star.
What are we if we are not the reflection of what others want us to be? What is left of us if there are no memories, and the only identity presented to you is a character? Where is the will to live if our identity is empty? Lila is being taught what she is for her fans, but not for herself. Violeta seems to have little interest in her identity, moving between her dead-end job as a bartender, as her role as mother; she only comes alive when she is pretending to be Lila Cassen.
The differences in the lives of Lila and Violeta are, of course, obvious from the outside: Lila lives in a large home, somewhat cold in that it is a museum dedicated to her image and the accolades that image has earned for her. Gold and silver, sharp angles and a sense of sterility and coldness, greet us as we watch Lila watch Violeta (and hence some part of herself). Violeta's home is also sparesly decorated, but there is a warmth in its cosy smallness. But each 'home' hides secrets that will come bubbling to the surface.
Lila's world is now one of reflections: the various mirrors in her home, the reflective surfaces of framed posters of her own image; her videos on youtube; and Violeta, a fun-house mirror reflection that might end being more like Lila than Lila herself. Even Lila's gold nail polish seems some kind of reflection of an identity that she possibly tried to murder, one that, even as she grows attached to Violeta, she may not wish to return to.
As for Violeta, she seems to have no identity of her own; her daughter Marta (Natalia de Molina) is every parent's worse nightmare, morose and demanding to the point of threatening violence, and Violeta has let herself become apushover, existing only in her love for Lila's music. Once she must teach Lila, there she finds an identity, a persona of strength, beauty, and mystery, even as she protects Lila's secrets. Violeta is the perfect fan: she knows everything necessary to teach Lila, yet she will keep these secrets, even if it causes a dangerour rift with Marta, who becomes even more difficult to control.
Stellar performances by Nimra and Llorach, and a creeping, minimalist score by Alberto Iglesias (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Skin I Live In), create an atmosphere of haunting loneliness and slowly tightening pressure. Quién Te Cantará is a mesmerizing story of the burden of fame, the bonds between strangers, the price of love, and the reflections we see and do not see in each other and ourselves.