Mercedes Moncada Rodríguez’s second feature film (she also directed 2003’s The Passion of Maria Elena) re-examines the period of Nicaragua’s Contra war, mostly via long interviews with a family whose boys found themselves on opposite sides of the political divide (the Contras tried to conscript them both when they were teenagers; one of the boys escaped, one didn’t).
On one level this is a fairly straightforward portrait of a small mountain village trying to move beyond its memories of a long national trauma. Moncada Rodriguez’s visual sensibility is relatively uncomplicated, she allows her interview subjects to speak at length about their struggles (sometimes to powerful effect, as one woman talks of how her husband was tortured to death by the Contras), and she leaves the viewer with a good sense of the complexity of this small village, in fine political-impressionist fashion.
But in other ways, The Immortal is more complex. Images of evangelical Christianity run throughout the film, giving a sense not only of the extremely emotional character of this trauma but also of the way that it remade the country (Nicaragua, like Central and South America as a whole, is traditionally very, very Catholic). An image of a twelve-year old girl, now leaving the village to live in the United States in an evangelical community (where she will take the family name De Jesus), feels heavy with symbolic value given the role of the USA in this mess. And for a film shot on video (although screened on 35mm) it looks very sharp; colour is used to great effect, and shots of the misty, mountainous landscape are carefully deployed, giving a sense of the world-apart-ness of this village without seeming romantic or touristy. And structurally, the film is very open; we jump around a lot, so much so that Diane Weyermann wrote in the Sundance Film Festival’s catalogue of the director’s “nonlinear system of spiritual circularity reflecting her subject’s view of the universe and fate.”
The work here, then, is solid, and occasionally surprising. Moncada Rodríguez is speaking an essentially televisual language; she relies on interviews which emphasise historical detail and have a generally modest, visual sensibility. But she diverges from this every once in a while, giving a hint not only of the larger social forces that are still shaping Nicaragua, but also of how those social forces might be explained in a language unique to documentary cinema.