Stephen Borunda/Special to The Santiago Times
As we kickoff 2018, it has already arrived: Chilean director Nicolás López’s latest film. No estoy loca (I’m Not Crazy) stars Paz Bascuñán (the granddaughter of Chilean president Patricio Aylwin) as Carolina – a woman who is interned in a psychiatric hospital after she discovers that her husband (Marcial Tagle) has been having an ongoing affair with her best friend (Fernanda Urrejola) and they plan on starting a life together. When Carolina’s husband and her now ex-best friend then announce that they are already expecting a baby, Carolina suffers a mental breakdown and attempts, unsuccessfully, to commit suicide. While this film is clearly deeply personal to the director – as López’s mother was hospitalized when López’s father had an extramarital dalliance – the film often finds itself reliant upon platitudes and inappropriate humor. López’s strengths are comedic writing but audiences may be surprised that a film revolving around topics as serious as mental health, suicide, and self-acceptance surprisingly has few serious points to contribute to these important discussions.
The young Chilean director’s films are now seemingly being produced at an exponential rate. López’s better-known films such Hazlo como hombre (2017), Sin filtro (2016), and Que pena tu familia (2012)) have developed quite a following in Chile. With his films now being remade in Mexico and Spain, López’s audiences have even expanded well beyond Chile’s borders. His newfound global popularity may have something to do with his adherence to the great Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar’s methodology of bold but jocular handling of often ignored themes revolving around sexuality and femininity. But, the rapid rate at which López is creating films is reflected in his most recent final product. No estoy loca features bland cinematography and lighting; only a handful of close-up shots inspire any imaginative musings from the audience. The treatment that López provides mental illness is even more troublesome as the film relies on stereotypes of people with mental illnesses.
In No estoy loca, we follow Carolina’s plight in a psychiatric hospital; her unexpectedly elongated stay allows her to come to terms with herself as a person. Some of López’s dramaturgy evokes the ideas presented in Betty Friedan’s Feminine Mystique as Carolina is forced to deal with her feelings of inadequacy that stem from the criticism she has faced about her recently discovered infertility. Carolina is a successful and independent woman who works for a fashion magazine but for those around Carolina (most importantly her mother) her identity is defined by her lack of children. While Carolina is emboldened enough to eventually confront her mother, it is ironic and problematic that these ideas about female liberation do not initially come from Carolina herself or even another female in the story. Rather, Carolina’s male doctor (Luis Pablo Román) is the one who expresses these ideas about feminal self-acceptance.
Yet, the story’s major fault is the way that it handles its protagonists and supporting characters. In G.K. Chesterton’s biography of Saint Francis of Assisi, the famed English author writes that current historiographical work fails us because “We learn about reformers without knowing what they had to reform, about rebels without a notion of what they rebelled against…” Unexpectedly, this analysis of historical writing applies to this fictional film as well; Carolina’s development is incomplete because who she was as a person prior to her hospitalization is vague. Her mental breakdown that comes quite early in the story is thus less impactful. The rapid movement of the plot from Carolina’s birthday party at the start of the film to her collapse roughly 15 minutes later means that we really do not have a rich picture of who she was as a person. Even more offensive than the simple mishandling of Carolina’s development is López’s treatment of those patients in the psychiatric ward. López goes out of his way to show a number of patients. Yet, nearly all of them are the same – dull, repetitive, and, frankly, vacuous. Even one of the patients that becomes a close friend (Lorenza Izzo) of Carolina makes numerous crude jokes about suicide. Obviously, all of the patients in the hospital could have been portrayed as nuanced individuals but very few of the patients warrant any attention onscreen beyond being the butt of jokes. One patient literally seems only capable of saying the word “piña” (pineapple), as she obliges other characters to smell her.
While the film’s denouement does leave the audience in an optimistic mood, there are simply too many mishandlings of somber topics for this film to warrant a second viewing. While the extraordinary number of films that López is directing or producing may have a role to play in the film’s clunky treatment of mental health there might be more factors at play. In a recent interview with El Mercurio’s magazine Sabado, López also stated that early in his career he realized that he was “more important than his movies.” Such a solipsistic statement reveals that López’s focus, by his own admission, is more on his own self-promotion than creating assiduous films with emotive themes and characters. Perhaps, then this film is functioning exactly as López intended: as a stepping-stone on his path to directorial superstardom.