The genesis of Song without a name begins with a call from the French activist of Peruvian origin Celine Giraud to Ismael León, father of Melina León, director of the film. Giraud was the founder of La Voix des Adoptes, a French NGO dedicated to rebuilding the lives of stolen and illegally adopted children in France. She herself was able to find her biological mother in Peru thanks to the press clippings of the reports that León, the father, wrote in the early 1980s. This contact encouraged León, the daughter, to turn the story of those women and those babies in his first feature film. And, in an interview with El Salto, to confess that after decades of investigation "not only does it continue to happen, it is that we do not know how many cases of babies stolen from indigenous women there are in Peru."
The film tells the story of Georgina, an Andean ethnic woman who, along with her husband, moves to Lima in the late 1980s, already pregnant, expelled from their place of origin due to clashes between the Army and the Shining Path. In the Peruvian capital, she sells potatoes in the city market until she gives birth and her baby, a girl, disappears. Georgina does not receive any explanation or help from the authorities, only the support of other women in a similar situation, until Pedro Campos appears, a journalist from Lima of mestizo origin and secretly homosexual, who decides to expose the systematic theft of the children. and daughters of indigenous women.
In its tour of more than 100 festivals around the world, Song without a name has garnered more than 40 awards, such as the award for Best Feature Film at the Stockholm Festival (Sweden), CineVision for Best International Film by a New Director at Filmfest München (Germany), Best Director at the Thessaloniki Festival (Greece), the FIPRESCI Award for Best Film at the Montreal Nouveau Cinéma Festival (Canada), and the Golden Colon for Best Feature Film at the Huelva Ibero-American Film Festival ( Spain), among many others. Among other things, it was worth it to be released on Netflix in January 2021 and in Spain it is also available on the Filmin platform.
The director explains that during the documentation part, the Police assured her that it is impossible to know the total number of child theft cases “because in the 1980s in Peru it was much easier to falsify documents and it was very dangerous to investigate these mafias. The newspapers of the time estimated a few hundred victims from what they could prove, but it is impossible to know." Even "we found that these robberies continue to exist and that some child theft mafias still work because there are police and judges who allow it... or rather, these police and judges are part of the mafias."
The filmmaker, who premiered at the directors' fortnight at Cannes and with her film has been nominated by Peru for the Oscar nomination for Best International Film and the Goya for Best Ibero-American Film —“I realized that awards are not like festivals, at festivals the jury does see the film”—, laments that although Song without a name has been well received in his country, “baby thefts and violence against women or indigenous peoples are not a current or topical issue. If anything, there is talk of the forced sterilizations of Fujimori, but as a way of reviling that period, not as a criticism of racism.
León became close to an affected mother “who never recovered her children. They were stolen older, and she was able to track them down and got to know them through Celine's foundation, but she never got the relationship back. He is one of many. We know that there are many more cases that have never been resolved.” If you needed more evidence of the topicality of the topic, in 2018 a trafficking network based in Arequipa, the second largest city in the country, was uncovered. He also investigated the phenomenon worldwide, being scandalized by cases such as the one revealed by the BBC in 2019 of the "human farms" in Nigeria.
A non-professional actress for a defenseless character
The protagonist Georgina is brought to life by Pamela Mendoza, an anthropologist and community theater actress whom León chose because "it seemed absurd to me to resort to actors who, due to their origin, have been able to access professional theater when we wanted to reflect the enormous abyss that exists in Latin America for people of indigenous descent. It was more logical to turn to people who have suffered marginalization and racialization firsthand and look for talent among them.” Mendoza is the daughter of Andean migrants and in interviews she has explained several times that she somehow interprets the story of her mother and her aunts, except for the robbery part.
Georgina and her husband, Leo, played by actor Lucio Rojas, come and go to the center of Lima walking from a small house on one of the cliffs that surround the city, a desert that hangs over the sea, in shots that underline their helplessness. “Lima is a capital city of a country that is not made to serve the majority of people of indigenous, Quechua-speaking or Andean descent. The mestizos who speak Spanish as their first language acquire a higher status, but those who are more Andean, as in the case of Pamela, have it worse”, explains the director. She herself knows it from the story of her father, whose white paternal family never recognized him.
In the case of the character of Pedro Campos, the journalist played by Tommy Párraga, León decided to add his homosexuality to the condition of mestizo to add “the other forms of violence that we experience. That little love story that he lives in the background was not in the first drafts of the script, but I thought that it would help an international audience, who did not know so much about racism in Peru, to understand why he sympathizes with her." For his father, Ismael León, “his condition as a mestizo made him rebellious and very supportive of marginalized people. In the film's journalist, living a romance is a way of indicating that things also happen in life with light”.
When asked about the balance of the situation of indigenous communities in the 40 years since her father's first reports, the filmmaker is pessimistic. “The violence that continues to exist is seen in how the pandemic has affected the descendants of indigenous people, for example. To give you some information, there were 100 ICU beds in Peru at the beginning of 2020, the vast majority in Lima. Imagine what happened in areas like Iquitos, in the jungle of Peru, or in Arequipa, which only had three ICU beds. That is why more than 200,000 people have died. Any progress that there has been, I don't know what we can translate it into."
She, although she does observe a revaluation of indigenous cultures in issues such as “the debacle of climate change. The world has turned its eyes to the indigenous people realizing that the model we are in is destructive and their way of life is a counterweight.” Melina León is the first Peruvian woman invited to Cannes, which she considers “a sign of the interest there is in the subject at an international level: for the work of women, for the lives of indigenous people, for Human Rights in Peru. ..”.