“A Love Song in Spanish” / through the eyes of…

“A Love Song in Spanish”
 seen through the eyes of Sarah Schlüssel, member of the preselection team of Berlinale Shorts.

An old woman, the filmmaker’s grandmother, lives a quiet life. She has her daily routine – cleaning the house, preparing food, having a cup of coffee at a dining table that is not meant for only one person. Sometimes, she dresses up and dances for herself.

There was a time when she danced with him, her husband. He comes to haunt her even now; a demon, the ghost of a past that is still there in her memories and that she cannot fend off, not even with prayers. It appears he used to be a powerful man, a brutal man; a man who probably himself was traumatised. It is not easy to listen to what she remembers – for instance, the time when he ordered the torturing of her co-worker and friend out of jealousy. “Why did God make me love you,” she asks. We see her old, warm body – her feet, hands, breast. Small details that make up a person.

Old family photos have faded. Archive footage illustrates Panama’s violent, post-colonial past and decades of military dictatorship. Parallels between personal and shared history become clear early on in this film – protesters are abused by the police; a woman is threatened by her husband. The dictator of a country, the dictator of a house. “That was the horrible military regime, I lived it in my own body,” she says. Cycles of violence repeat themselves. Still today, soldiers sing martial tunes that condense complex geopolitical conflicts to one line: “Yankees Yankees / Flee Flee / From the Zone / Of the Canal.” Power alliances may have shifted over the years, but the military is still there, and soldiers are still following the playbook of their leaders.

A LOVE SONG IN SPANISH is both a tender, personal portrait of a family member, and the story of a country with a bloody history. How can you come to terms with your past? How is it possible to deal with trauma? One way surely is no longer to stay silent, but to tell one’s own story.

Sarah Schlüssel is a cultural manager and film programmer. She is a member of the Berlinale Shorts selection committee, coordinates the Short Form Station of Berlinale Talents, and co-founded shorts/salon.

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