Mitad del Mundo, Ecuador. Small, dusty, and isolated. 15-year-old Diana decides to run away from the frigid group home for troubled girls where she’s been living. Prompted by a letter from her 13-year-old sister, Lisi, saying that their mother’s depraved, abusive boyfriend has left, Diana burns to get to her hometown ten hours away. But not to stay there. With money stolen from the purse of a social worker, Diana takes off and grudgingly brings her toddler Edi, a product of rape, hoping to pick up her sister and start a new life together somewhere.
When Diana and Edi arrive in the city of Machala - the end of the line for their bus - they have one more bus ride left to get to Diana’s hometown of Puerto Bolivar. But anxiety about being so close to home paralyzes Diana with a massive panic attack. Diana calls Lisi from a payphone and implores her to come to Machala instead. Lisi responds that their mom – whom Diana hates for not protecting her and her sister - is sick and she can’t leave her now, and Diana realizes that Lisi is under their mother’s spell. Diana will have to convince her to leave.
Soon after, Diana is caught stealing diapers for Edi and a corrupt policeman takes the little money she has left. With no resources, Diana must figure out how to survive in Machala and take care of Edi, even as she’s frustrated by him and ultimately is not sure she wants him, hoping that eventually she’ll be able to reunite with her sister.
Diana desperately searches for a job. She finally convinces stern Sra. Barillas, a solitary older woman, to give her work at a laundry. Diana also meets Javi, a sweet, smitten high school student. The stigma of Diana’s past makes it difficult to nurture new relationships, but eventually, between Sra. Barillas and Javi, Diana and Edi have the beginnings of a home. Diana grows closer with Edi, too, seeing herself in him for the first time. However, Diana continues to be challenged by incredible instability around her: Sra. Barillas is in ill health. The patriarch of Javi’s household - Javi’s uncle - is a volatile and violent abuser, and the subjugation of the rest of the family is all too familiar for Diana. And it remains to be seen if Diana will be able to get her sister away from their narcissistic mother. The only certainty for Diana becomes her relationship with Edi as she contemplates anew where they will settle.
The disruption of childhood and loss of home is a central experience for me and I am always looking for that place of comfort and rest. The same is true for a group of teenage girls I became close with in Ecuador. Over years, I spent time in Ecuador at a safehouse for teenage girls who had survived sex trafficking, which almost always began as abuse at home and escalated. The girls had been sold by their family members or family friends, or kidnapped by a trafficker posing as a boyfriend. Some had been forced into drug addictions to keep them docile and dependent. And many of the girls had a baby that was, inevitably, a continuing reminder of rape and a heavy responsibility for a teenager with no resources. Each of the girls was in the position of starting over at the age of 14 or 15 and, since most could not return to her childhood home, of finding a new place to settle. Girl with Child is an homage to these girls and to anyone uprooted from their home.
Girl with Child is a Spanish-language film that takes an uncommon look into the life of a teenage abuse survivor. Instead of framing the period of abuse or the escape or rescue, the story focuses on the hereafter and lets viewers piece together the main character’s history through her present. Wide, painterly visuals and detailed sound design present the main character in the context of the big world she must explore in her search for a new home. Additionally, tight frames and quiet moments bring us close to her, even to the point of abstraction at times, and signify that she doesn’t feel whole. Long takes allow us to get to know her and her toddler in tender intimacy and convey the wandering nature of their journey. The film draws influences from Loves of a Blonde, The 400 Blows, and the recent film Moonlight. Musical references to the Eden Ahbez/Nat King Cole song “Nature Boy”, the score from The 400 Blows, and haunting re-imaginings of vintage Latin standards like “Flor de Azalea” by artist Frankie Reyes carry the soundtrack.