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BERLINALE 2022 Generation

Review: Alis


- BERLINALE 2022: Clare Weiskopf and Nicolas van Hamelryck’s award-winning doc gives a voice to young Colombian women who are now virtually deprived of their freedom, but not of their hope

Review: Alis

Something as simple as a batch of interviews or chats in front of a static camera, with the protagonists looking straight into the viewer’s eyes, totally unfiltered – this is what constitutes the narrative core of Alis [+see also:
film profile
, a delicate, lively and sensitive film, although not devoid of strength and positivity, which has just emerged victorious in the Generation 14plus section of the 72nd Berlin Film Festival, and which also received the Teddy Award in the documentary category. The people behind it (handling directing and production duties) are Clare Weiskopf and Nicolás Van Hemelryck, who made their debut in 2016 with Amazona, which premiered at IDFA, was the opening title of DocsBarcelona, got distributed in 11 countries, was nominated for the Fénix and Goya Awards, and scooped three prizes from the Colombian Academy.

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Now, the filmmakers have set up in the Arcadia boarding school in Bogotá, where, thanks to some documentary film workshops that they taught there for five years, they managed to blend in with their (female) students, thus establishing an impressive level of friendship, trust and general closeness with them. And so, through the simple method of asking the teenage girls – whose families are unable to take care of them – to imagine a very close friend of theirs (the titular Alis), they gradually lift the lid on their traumatic past, their personalities, and their hopes and dreams.

Particularly prominent among the latter is freedom, one of the topics that constitute the crux of this feature’s storyline, in addition to other areas, such as violence and love, the great driving force that unites the boarders, as within the centre’s walls, decked with barbed wire, they have managed to build a special Arcadia where there is no trace of discrimination, especially not one based on sexual identity.

Breaking up these thematic blocks with moments of everyday life, such as personal-hygiene activities or dancing (music, of course, plays a huge part in the daily lives of these young women – not only because they listen to it, but also because they perform it themselves), Alis is propped up by the candour, purity, spontaneity and sheer expressive power of these young faces, lending overwhelming momentum to its message of hope in spite of the various dreadful events that are recounted here, which all befell these girls on the streets of the Colombian capital.

For all these reasons, this feature ends up turning into an ensemble portrait of a group of people – and let’s not burden them with gender-based labels – who are strong, mature and tenacious. Even though they still retain characteristics from their not-so-distant childhoods, they wish to overcome the obstacles that society has placed in their way in order to be free and build a better future. For the time being, as they strive to get to that point, they are able to rely on mutual support and, above all, their imagination: because, as was said in the most recent movie by Jonás Trueba, which also homed in on the world of teenagers, “Who’s stopping us?”

Alis is a co-production between Colombia, Chile and Romania, staged by the companies Casatarántula, Pantalla Cines and deFilm, respectively. Its international sales are overseen by Spanish sales agent Latido Films.

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(Translated from Spanish)

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