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Review: Don’t Be Afraid

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Lives marked forever


- Montxo Armendáriz uses a narrative style halfway between fiction and documentary in his film condemning the terrible social curse of sexual abuse.

Review: Don’t Be Afraid

A normal family unit like any other, well-off and apparently happy, take a walk in a provincial city: dad, mum and their blonde-haired, prim and pretty daughter whose eyes are brimming with curiosity, innocence and life. But when they get home, while the father tells his daughter not to be afraid, he sexually abuses her.

The camera only shows the young girl’s frightened, surprised and very confused face. Because the person who should protect, care for and love her above all else has suddenly turned into a monster, a beast who inspires feelings of disgust and fear, respect and appreciation, a whole range of conflicting emotions.

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For this girl, the model to follow and example to copy ceases to be valid and the defenceless creature will grow up in a sea of doubts, silence, loneliness, feelings of guilt and incomprehension. Only time, therapy and growing to verbalise and accept what has happened can release her from the turbulent darkness in which she has grown up.

Montxo Armendáriz’s latest film looks at the long-term psychological effects caused by the abuse – sexual, violent or any other type – of children. Young, expressive Michelle Jenner plays the daughter, revealing the hell experienced by victims of one of humanity’s most abominable crimes. The cast also includes Lluis Homar as the victim’s father and Belén Rueda as her mother, a woman who, like today’s selfish society, prefers not to face the problem at home or all its painful consequences. Instead, she is guided by convenience and her own interests and whims.

In the majority of cases, children are abused by people close to them. They therefore end up with twisted notions of friendship, sexuality and love, and become emotionally unbalanced adults who must struggle with the extremely hard task of rebuilding their lives.

For this reason the film, with its realistic but unmorbid approach, focuses solely on the victim’s anguish, from her childhood through to adolescence and her first steps into adulthood, looking at her day-to-day life. The camera never leaves her point of view, her eyes and what she sees; it reveals her trauma, anguish and pathologies, including a split personality, dreadful bouts of depression, addictions and digestive disorders.

To lend veracity to the crime he condemns, the director blends documentary and fiction, whilst breaking the linear structure of the protagonist’s life. Her story is narrated as a flashback in the first half of the film, which includes testimonies based on real events that are incorporated into the fictional narrative. These on-camera confessions – spoken by real victims and little-known actors – serve to show the wide range of people of different sexes, ages and social backgrounds who may fall victim to abuse during their childhood and youth.

Don’t Be Afraid [+see also:
film focus
interview: Montxo Armendáriz
film profile
was shot in the director’s native Pamplona over seven and a half weeks, after two months of rehearsals with the main cast. The rights to the €3.5m film have been bought by TVE and Canal + Spain.

(Translated from Spanish)


international title: Don't Be Afraid
original title: No tengas miedo
country: Spain
sales agent: Funny Balloons
year: 2011
directed by: Montxo Armendáriz
screenplay: Montxo Armendáriz
cast: Michelle Jenner, Lluís Homar, Belén Rueda, Núria Gago, Rubén Ochandiano, Cristina Plazas, Javier Pereira

main awards/selection

Karlovy Vary Film Festival 2011 Official Competition

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