Venice 2022 review: Blanquita (Fernando Guzzoni)

“As one character says in the film, “A good lie is made up of truths”; do we absolve this lie if it’s for the greater good?”

Ever since the start of the #MeToo era, the idea to ‘always believe the victim’ has become prevalent in society. While in general this is a good rule of thumb, there are cases that come with a bit more nuance and are not as clear cut as they seem on the surface. One such case is the subject of Chilean director Fernando Guzzoni’s third film Blanquita, about an explosive sexual abuse scandal and the key witness at the heart of it who gives the film its title. Based on a true case that had Chile roiled and divided roughly two decades ago, Blanquita is a film about the perception of truth and about ethical choices in the face of grave injustice. As one character says in the film, “A good lie is made up of truths“; do we absolve this lie if it’s for the greater good?

Blanca (Laura López), sometimes called by the diminutive Blanquita, lives in a foster home run by Manuel (Alejandro Goic), a priest that years ago got her off the streets. She now oversees the other kids in the home, including Carlos. When he starts recalling sexual abuse at the hands of a child sex ring run by influential businessmen and politicians, this triggers similar memories in Blanca. Given that Carlos and others can’t be put forward as witnesses due to the neurological damage caused by drug abuse, the older Blanca becomes the leading witness in the case. The stories she tells are abhorrent, especially when it comes to a key figure in the shape of a powerful senator. But the deeper the investigation goes, the more questions arise about Blanca’s role in the scandal.

Blanquita rides high mostly on a compelling moral question and a complex central character. Given the last lines of either of the above paragraphs you can probably guess that Blanca is not the typical battered heroine fighting for her own justice you might see in other films like this. She is a woman on a mission, poised to get revenge for the abuse she suffered, even if the abuse she testifies about might not be her own. Which leads to the moral question: is it okay to lie if it serves justice? The complexity of Blanca as a character is what makes this question so compelling, because in many ways she is far from likeable. Blanca is abrasive, aggressive, and prone to shut out people that don’t fall in line with her. She makes Manuel, a man who has seen humanity’s worst but weathered it by holding on to his faith, go against his nature, and forces him to face his own position as a man of the cloth. Yet Blanca is also caring and hurt, and most importantly fighting on the right side of justice, if perhaps not on the right side of morality.

Guzzoni and his cinematographer Benjamín Echazarreta render this in muted and washed-out tones, as if life has been drawn out of the victims, and also giving Blanquita the feel of a thriller. This is compounded by the narrative, since Blanca’s revelations cause bad blood with not only the powerful accused but also the higher echelons of the church, leading to thinly veiled threats. These are often the weakest moments in the film, since they cheapen the theme running through the film and their tension feels fabricated. But Guzzoni repeatedly manages to steer the focus back on his protagonist and her unwavering determination to get what she wants. Blanquita is a film that doesn’t make easy choices and lets the audience examine their own conscience, and when Blanca looks straight into the camera in the film’s powerful final shot, you can feel your soul being pierced.