Mikael Wiström and Alberto Herskovits. Sweden

Sweden 2010, 82 min.

Peruvian Nati Barrientos is about to leave her family for the first time in her life to work in Spain, hoping to provide a better future for her husband and children. Back home, Daniel struggles to keep the household together. He tries to make himself and his son forget their hardships. Their growing bond becomes an increasingly important part of the ties that keep the family together. Working hard on the other side of the Atlantic, Nati initially enjoys the reprieve from the daily strain of family conflicts. But that feeling is soon replaced by the loneliness of an immigrant.

What does globalization really that means to us? Maybe that question cannot be answered by those comfortably living in the modern Western world. Maybe it can only be answered by those who experience the downside. Natividad Barrientos is one of them. Nati and her partner Daniel have always worked hard to make ends meet. They managed to move up from straw mats to a wooden shack and finally to a brick house. But as a result of their hard work, Nati feels she has neglected her children and never enjoyed them, and Daniel regrets his harshness with his girls. They don’t want their youngest son, Natanael, to suffer the same fate, so Nati and Daniel aim to give him the best opportunities in life. But they simply do not make enough money to ensure this, so when Nati gets the opportunity to work in Spain, she cannot decline. Her hope is that Nata can come to study there. But we soon learn that this is not realistic. Nati’s salary is far from sufficient. So there goes another dream…

Those who are acquainted with Wiström’s work will immediately recognize the main characters. Wiström made two documentaries about them prior to this one: Den andra stranden (The other shore, 1993) and Compadre (2004), the latter together with director Alberto Herskovits. It is through this sequence of films about the Barrientos family that we witness their life-long struggle. In The other shore, Wiström, who met the family as a photographer in the 1970s, returns to find the family again. Cultural differences abound.
The “sequel” Compadre focuses on the relationship between Daniel Barrientos and Wiström and asks questions about the extent to which we are responsible for each other. The divide between North and South becomes tangible as Daniel Barrientos asks Wiström for money for his motor taxi while Wiström explains that he needs the money to make the film. They both struggle and their friendship is tested, and with that the concept of friendship between two people in vastly different circumstances. In Familia, the focus shifts from Daniel to Nati, now 50 years old. She is the driving force in the family, and the main provider.

In Familia we see how the divide between North and South takes on global proportions. Over the decades, family travels have brought them from the highlands of Peru – where Daniel and Nati originally come from – to the capital Lima, on to neighbouring Brazil, where the oldest daughter Sandra is struggling for a better life, and finally to Spain, Europe. The journey is personified in Nati and sharpened by an excellent edit. The film cuts from an old black and white photo of the family’s previous shack to a colour image of a pool and lawn with four legs sticking out from under the sun blind. Welcome to Spain. Where The other shore was mainly about the Barrientos and Compadre about the Barrientos and Wiström, Familia is about the Barrientos and us. Knowing it is Nati, and women like her, who clean our hotel rooms while we enjoy a trip to Madrid, forces us even more to face their situation. It tears families apart and doesn’t fulfil their needs. Instead, it fulfils ours.

True to his own style, Wiström depicts the family members mostly in close up, and when portraying their loneliness in wider frames that include the surroundings: Nati in her Spanish landscape, alone in a hotel kitchen in San Sebastian or in her room in Madrid; Daniel and Nata in their Peruvian landscape, facing the ocean. All intimacy comes from the family scenes. We witness Nati and Daniel’s conversation sitting on their bed, and his efforts to get her to dance at the farewell party. We witness their quarrels, Dani and his wife Azucena’s marital troubles, and Daniel’s complaints about Judith. We listen to Judith as she seems to read from her diary. The family’s story is interwoven with past stories, older footage, and black and white photos Wiström took in the past. Family members’ reminiscences and photos illustrate their stories. It’s a clean and consequent style that places the intimacy of a family in its surroundings. Here people come first. Although part of a bigger theme, Familia stands on its own. Despite the harsh realities of the Barrientos, Familia is neither sad nor depressing. Life is tough and we see these strong people dealing with it. Despite her fate, Nati still has it in her heart to worry about others, who are even worse off, such as illegal immigrants who are homeless and beaten up for no reason. Nata’s youthful playfulness makes up for a lot and puts a smile on your face.
As in the previous films we get little information about the economic and social background. Questions about how Nati got the opportunity to work in Spain remain unanswered. Also, one may wonder why Daniel and Nati’s children Judith and Dani are so lethargic, and seem unwilling to take responsibility. Familia does not address these issues. It doesn’t ask Daniel and Nati to account for themselves. Instead, it makes us think about the fact that global solutions for us are not necessarily global solutions for them.

Modern Times Review