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A still from CETTE MAISON, featuring a Black person sitting amongst flowers and greenery, inside.

Observed Online Reviews

At Third Horizon, Filmmakers Create Conduits for Closure

Films by Miryam Charles and Victoria Linares shine in the latest edition of the Caribbean-focused festival.

by Alexandra Martinez

From Cette Maison (This House) (2022) dir. Miryam Charles. Image courtesy of Oyster Films.

In the wistful landscapes of Miryam Charles’s Cette Maison (This House) and Victoria Linares’ Lo Que se Hereda (It Runs in the Family), homelands come to life. Charles’s and Linares’s respective homelands, Haiti and the Dominican Republic, are coincidentally the two neighboring countries of Hispaniola, where deeply entrenched colonial, economic and racial tensions have given rise to violent racism inflicted by the Dominican Republic upon Haiti and consequently, decades of diaspora and migration.

In their films, Charles and Linares revisit their relationships to their lands, where lush island flora thrives amidst ruins of decomposing concrete edifices. Their respective investigations, which are both being presented at this year’s Third Horizon Film Festival from June 23 through 26, in Miami, lead them to  the birthplaces of trauma carried through generations of their family and subsequently passed on to their descendents—themselves. Film and its inherent capability of reenactment become conduits for closure and necessary healing in communities where confronting the roots of trauma has historically been forbidden.

Linares opens Lo Que se Hereda with archival family footage of herself at age four surrounded by older male relatives. The video is seemingly playful—a young, fragile child asking not to be tickled or messed with while the bigger kids pick on her. They pull up her underwear while laughing and prodding at her attempts to seem strong in spite of their bullying. The undertones, however, feel rife with the familial tension that Linares explores throughout the entirety of the film—the feeling of being ostracized for being different. 

From Lo Que se Hereda (It Runs in the Family) (2022), dir Victoria Linares Villegas. Image courtesy Third Horizon Film Festival.

At the heart of Linares’s film is an investigative journey to unearth her late uncle, Oscar Torres and his legacy as a celebrated Dominican filmmaker, whose memory was siphoned out of the family. Linares expertly pieces together his narrative through his archival screenplays, biographies written by colleagues, and testimonies from family and friends. Ultimately, Linares discovers that Torres, just like her, was queer. As she interrogates the family and society’s willingness to “forget and erase” him, she wonders if she’ll bear the same fate, given a tenuous relationship with her mother. 

Linares’s magic occurs in unscripted moments, when she is able to showcase how valuable revisiting the past can be for elders in the family. Almost an hour into the film, the filmmaker becomes a makeshift therapist. Two elder family members are reenacting an emotional scene from a screenplay Torres wrote but was never able to be realized on screen. Unbeknownst to Linares, the two actors actually begin to cry while delivering their lines. With the camera still rolling, Linares realizes their performance has transcended the words on the page, and has allowed them to process unhealed grief from tragedies they had yet to have the opportunity to sift through. Now, after stepping into Torres’s words, and Linares’s direction, they finally can.

From Lo Que se Hereda (It Runs in the Family) (2022), dir Victoria Linares Villegas. Image courtesy Third Horizon Film Festival.

Processes for healing likewise sit at the center of Charles’s Cette Maison, Third Horizon’s opening night film. In her feature film debut, shot on 16 mm film, Charles pieces together the details behind the tragedy of Tessa, her cousin, and her apparent suicide at just 14 years old. In the series of scripted reenactments that Charles directs, it is revealed that Tessa was in fact  violently murdered after suffering sexual assault in Canada. In a wrenching, two-minute long take, a doctor takes Valeska, Tessa’s mother (played by Florence Blain Mbaye) to see her daughter’s corpse herself. She shrieks in horror just before the sound cuts out completely, leaving her profound sorrow to fill the space.

In the scene immediately after Tessa is found dead, Valeska tends to a verdant garden growing inside the home in preparation for a visit by government child services to inspect her well-being following the tragedy. They interrogate her outside a window, never entering the home but analyzing her every act. Here, the violence of Tessa’s murder is surmounted by the violence of government surveillance. If Valeska gives a finger, she risks losing any shred of composure and opening the floodgates of her repressed devastation.

The death unravels their family’s path and consumes their future with unattended grief. While Charles is never present in front of the camera, she manifests spiritual visions of an imagined future had Tessa lived, all the while jumping between her family’s past and future in Haiti, Canada, and the United States. In other imaginary memories, Tessa (brought to life in the film by Schelby Jean-Baptiste) converses with Valeska across a dinner table with a sense of hopeful longing for a future that can never be–each yearning for reunion. Narrated by Jean-Baptiste’s Tessa, Charles’s film is able to mourn the ways her family’s lives changed forever and provide some of the closure they were never able to receive.

From Cette Maison (This House) (2022) dir. Miryam Charles. Image courtesy of Oyster Films.

For Charles, this film is a portal for imaginal conjuring. While she always wanted to film directly in Haiti, in the land of her ancestors, political instability and the pandemic kept her from returning. The distant shot of the island is actually Dominica, routinely confused with the Dominican Republic, and in Cette Maison, it will likely be confused for Haiti by North American audiences. This adds another layer of loss and melancholy, that presumably only Haitians and those who know the land well enough will understand. Charles reminds us that some dreams are not attainable—some solace may never come. But, perhaps the act of setting the intention, of deconstructing the experience to envision a new meaning, is powerful enough. 

“Everything is possible here,” Tessa recites. 

Tessa was referring to the afterlife, but for Linares and Charles, the refrain speaks to the imaginative, and therefore therapeutic, nature of cinema that lays the foundation for healing.

Cette Maison and Lo Que se Hereda will screen as part of the 2022 Third Horizon Film Festival, running June 23-26 in Miami, FL and online. See here for the festival’s full line-up. 




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