WHAT IT’S ABOUT: Isa, who lives in smalltown Costa Rica, is an ideal of traditional Central American femininity. She takes care of the household, her two daughters and husband Alcides while adding to the family income as a seamstress. Everything seems to be appropriately organized in her picture-perfect life, but as Alcides and the rest of the members of the family start pitching the idea of a male heir, Isa realizes she is sinking. As sticky, bizarre hallucinations fill her days, and she imagines what it could be like to live a life childless and single, Isa is about to reach a breaking point. Will she have to submit to the external will and have the new baby, or is freedom still a possibility given the circumstances?
WHO MADE IT: Antonella Sudasassi is a young Costa Rican Italian filmmaker, who has long been interested in the visions that interfere with a woman’s reality. Her exploration of the theme in “The Awakening of the Ants,” began with her previous short project, eponymous to this one. When the feature film was ready, Sudasassi quickly rose to the forefront of Costa Rica’s fledgling film industry by landing the International Film Oscars 2020 nomination from the country. Herself from a family where women always had multiple children, she’s just as proficient with the intricacies of domesticity, as she is with crafting a tight screenplay. “The Awakening of the Ants” is rich with impressive performances, including Daniela Valenciano, who plays Isa in a way that gives one goosebumps. Leynar Gomez, who had previously reached international viewers when appearing on the first season of “Narcos” as the hustling driver Limón, is gruff but not unpleasant as Alcides. DOC Andrés Campos is worth a mention, too, as he managed to make the visual components of the film both Pinterest-perfect and devastating.
WHY DO WE CARE: As feminism advances worldwide and new opportunities arise for women everywhere, there are still things that get lost in translation. A young childless woman who doesn’t live in a highly industrialized country might fare fine while following the imported feminist model, but what about someone who is already a mother and a homemaker? What can liberation be like for her, given the burden of responsibility and, undoubtedly, love that she feels for her family? “The Awakening of the Ants” is a fascinating study of a feminist rousing in the bosom of the family, which also doesn’t build up a lofty fantasy of the “Thelma and Louise” kind, but offers a practical analysis of what is possible without much harm. The events unravel slowly, and because the drama of the film is cooking on such a low fire, the narrative also unfolds through beautiful imagery, both realist and not. Sometimes it’s the careful exploration of the domestic universe in which Isa lingers, sometimes metaphors that become entangled with the reality, such as the concept of “ants,” both the tiny scourge that invades Isa’s hallucinations and the manifestation of her everyday grind. The universe of “The Awakening of the Ants” is a small one, but with dormant energy of disaffection to power a whole country.
WHY YOU NEED TO WATCH: Watching “The Awakening of the Ants” is a meditative, comforting experience despite the grave issue at the center of it. But it’s the lull of the domestic life, the sleepiness of the seaside town that the family lives in, even Isa’s unwieldy mane of long hair that gets into all crevices like a dark waterfall, that cause the protagonists’s unhappiness to stand out more. Feminism is so potent and attractive when the war is waged against the active threats of violence, misconduct, or injustice. But when the fight is challenged not by forces of evil but your own family, it’s either death by a thousand cuts, or resistance too easily dismissed as pointless, or even unjustified. The family is not affluent, but it isn’t despondent, Alcides is not a bad guy, his family is a little smothering but well-intentioned, and Isa’s two daughters are rather sweet children. What else could she want? Self-determination, to start with. Or space where her actions would not be dictated by the church’s missives. Sudassisi manages to explore the source of Isa’s unhappiness with grace, subtlety, and compassion, which is further elevated by Valenciano’s effortless, instinctual acting, as well as the breakout performances of the girls playing the daughters. A tender film with a depth of emotional intellect, “The Awakening of the Ants” is a necessary addition to the canon of feminist film and a nuanced look at Latin American womanhood.
The Awakening of the Ants (El Despertar de las Hormigas), 2019
Director: Antonella Sudasassi Furniss
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