Violeta at Last, directed by Hilda Hidago and starring Eugenia Chavveri, was up for nomination in the Audience Award strand of the Glasgow Film Festival; its consideration for the prize was a testament to its poignant, heart-wrenching story and determination to hold a discussion about issues which typically, society has an uncomfortable time addressing. For all the film maintains an unassuming and subdued nature in tone, it has a quiet, powerful strength which captivates attention and leaves some difficult ideas to stomach when the credits roll.
It manages this by making an effort to be deliberately small in scope. Violeta, a retired pensioner, leads a serene and peaceful life; one which is shaped very much by the love given to her from her children and the genuine friendship she harbours with her grandson, who is both old enough to have a substantial intellectual bond with her and young enough not to inhabit the cynicism and negativity which clouds the adults around him. Violeta spends her days gardening, taking swim lessons (where she particularly relishes submerging herself underwater and examining, almost abstractly, the movements of her peers as they splash around – these scenes are shot with great existential beauty) and spending time with her friends, all of a similar age but of a more subdued and passive temperament. She’s content with being alone, and relishes her independence, however is also conscious that others around her seem to grant her less autonomy than she would like.
She fights back because of the closeness she feels to her surroundings – they are both a reflection and an extension of herself. Camera placement is key in making the deep relationship Violeta has with her environment tangible and believable. Every shot is framed with eye to ratios and proportions; it often places Violeta in the centre of the screen, or to the immediate left or right corner, which showcases her behaviour and mood in a particular setting. It shows us how she interacts with the location, and particularly, what is recurring in these shots is the entrance made by extraneous characters into the shot itself. We are under no doubt as an audience of the perspective in which we are adopting here; this is Violeta’s house, garden, community and more importantly, worldview. She inhabits her every place with confidence, and the comfortable isolation established by these focussed and pointed depictions of her planting flowers, pottering around in the kitchen, contemplating the existentiality of humanity at the bottom of the swimming pool – they all work to show she’s the only person who seriously recognises her power and autonomy.
What Hidago and Chaverri assert is that, widely speaking, the relationship society harbours with its elderly is fractured in ways which we perhaps avoid contemplating. Violeta at Last is a commanding piece of work in the manner in which it forces subject matters to the surface which are perhaps uncomfortable to discuss, and as such, are systematically avoided. Though it’s a story of resistance, it considers this against a backdrop of love; more specifically, the ways in which love can constrain freedom. It’s a look into the manner in which we pigeonhole those of a certain age group into fulfilling certain societal positions, expecting them to be malleable; for them to give up leading active and independent lifestyles and to transition into a way of living which is of less risk to themselves and as such, more convenient for those in the periphery to oversee.
Violeta at Last is a direct rebuttal of this narrative, standing squarely in a position of quiet defiance. It is a competently made, well shot, thoughtful piece that doesn’t really care about shouting, even in the scenes of its striking climax. While never feeling overly intrusive in its niggling frustrations with the society, it’s a film that demands you to recognise why it was made, why it’s important, and what messages we can take from it into our relationships in future.
By Maisie McGregor