For anyone going into Litigante cold, the title of Colombian filmmaker Franco Lolli’s sophomore feature might prove somewhat misleading. Translated into English as ‘litigant’, meaning a person involved in a lawsuit, the promise of a searing courtroom drama is only half kept. There is indeed a legal battle — a sub-plot sees public sector lawyer Silvia (a brilliant Carolina Sanin) ensnared in a corruption scandal — but the true fight in the life of the director’s central character, and the one the he seems most interested in, plays out much closer to home.
Silvia’s elderly mother, Leticia (an equally impressive performance from Leticia Gómez), is slowly losing her struggle with lung cancer. Despite her daughter’s pleas, Leticia refuses to undergo a second round of chemotherapy through fear of a drastically reduced quality of life: a decision that exacerbates an already emotionally precarious situation with increasing tension. To complicate matters further, the pair are living under the same roof, along with Silvia’s young son, Antonio (Antonio Martinez), and her mild-mannered sister, María-José (Alejandra Sarria). It’s in this concentrated, heated melting pot of familial frictions that tempers begin to flare.
But if it’s fiery family drama that drives the narrative — abrasive exchanges that, while deriving from a place of deep-felt adoration, threaten to shatter Leticia and Silvia’s relationship beyond repair — Litigante is a film anchored by an exploration into what unites them: overburdened motherhood. Equal in pride, resilience and stoicism, the love-hate mother and daughter relationship at the heart of Lolli’s film is built upon strength of character, underlying mutual respect and, above all, similarity. Both women are, fundamentally, single mothers: Leticia since the death of her alcoholic husband; Silvia since it was mutually decided Antonio’s father would remain estranged. In fact, any male presence in the film remains almost entirely periphery, from Antonio’s compassionate Godfather, Sergio (David Roa), to Silvia’s well-meaning, but occasionally insensitive romantic interest, Abel (Vladimir Durán), a journalist first seen berating her on a local radio station.
While men surround Silvia in both her professional and private life, Litigante is, ultimately, a film about women and the burdens often unfairly placed on them by contemporary society. Like the life of its protagonist, Lolli’s film is a delicate balancing act, one of plentiful ideas that quietly unravel at a slow, staggered, thematically-serving pace to become an emotionally understated journey of female kinship. Cinematographer Luis Armando Arteaga’s camera is similarly inconspicuous — affecting but never showy; soft but rarely sentimental. In one of the film’s most poignant scenes, three generations of Silvia’s family lie silently beside each other in bed, the small, beaming television illuminating their faces in the darkness.
In its commitment to an honest, unobtrusive aesthetic, however, the film stumbles at the final hurdle. In the absence of an emotional climax, Litigante’s structural flaws become all the more prominent, with a disappointingly rushed conclusion that seems to leave too many of its loose ends untied and too many of its narrative plates still spinning. In the end, what is patiently crafted to be the movie’s emotional apex just isn’t given the necessary time to breathe: a parting feeling that prevents Lolli’s film from becoming the truly compelling, complete work it for so long promises to be.
Litigante will be streamed on Curzon Home Cinema from 10 July.