Marisol (2019). 15 minutes. Directed by Zoé Salicrup Junco. Featuring Emma Ramos, Rachel Lizette, and Katty Velasquez.
For any financially-strapped young adult, making ends meet can be a dance of calculated risks. Add the additional layers of single-parenthood, the elevated cost of living in a city, and low wages, and the situation can become desperate. The burden of such circumstances is further heightened when experienced by an undocumented mother.
The short film Marisol considers this burden with acuity. The film is an eloquent illustration of how one fateful mistake threatens to displace an entire life. A beautiful vignette, Marisol is both concise and expansive. The banality of the title character’s daily life is monumentalized when it’s threatened, thus elevating what might be taken for granted to the level of sacred. By the end of the film, the viewer kneels beside Marisol, reaching for and relishing a return to the comfort of the mundane.
In the film’s opening scene, a handheld camera puts the viewer shoulder to shoulder with Marisol as she goes through the rote tasks of completing a client’s laundry. The tight visual perspective illustrates the physical and metaphorical constraints of Marisol’s world. A quick glance at the laundry ledger account followed by Marisol’s subtle, pained expression reveals that things aren’t good. Money is tight. If Marisol is shaken by this revelation, she doesn’t let on, pivoting to the next duty of her day: driving her grade-school-aged daughter to class.
From here, the story moves to the environment that Marisol will occupy for the bulk of the film: the confines of a car. A sweet interaction between Marisol (played by Emma Ramos) and daughter, Maria, (played by Rachel Lizette) in the car goes a long way in setting up Marisol’s motivation and gentle disposition. She is utterly dedicated to her daughter. After dropping Maria off at school, Marisol promptly returns to her hustle. This time she drives as part of a rideshare service, posing as the car’s owner. The real owner is a friend of Marisol’s who gives her reluctant blessing to use the car.
Junco does an exceptional job of painting a rich story in the visual language of the film. The rideshare clients speak different languages, a nod to the panoply of lives that make up the complex tapestry of New York City and America. New York City is the backdrop to every ride. Marisol is in constant movement in this city yet remains confined to the car she drives. She’s a driver in New York but could easily be one of the passengers hopping in and out of her backseat.
It isn’t until a white, English-speaking male passenger hails the ride service that Marisol’s world is turned upside down. As he pries into Marisol’s life with questions about her background, she becomes uncomfortable and distracted. It’s in this moment that an error is made and Marisol faces what could be a life-altering event.
The pacing of the film gives Marisol its strength. The viewer is given just the right amount of time and proximity with Marisol to settle into her life, sympathize with her, and esteem her as the protagonist. This pacing includes dramatic pauses that succeed in magnifying moments of tension without distracting from the narrative. When Marisol waits, we feel her dread of the unknown. When she’s nervous, we’re nervous. The pacing and pausing of the film’s story allows viewers to sidle up to Marisol’s emotion and feel her moments of panic and relief. It’s rare that a film of this length can allow its viewers to completely immerse themselves in the emotional landscape of the story. Marisol does this brilliantly and without a heavy hand.
The dialogue in Marisol is also sparse and thoughtfully crafted. Interactions between characters feel natural—even documentary. The film’s writing and direction avoids unnecessary exposition and, instead, provides simple and poignant cues to the backstory. The majority of the dialogue in the film is spoken in Spanish with English subtitles, thus further authenticating the lives and experiences playing out on the screen before us. English makes a brief entry later in the film and is welded as a tool of power or, more aptly put, oppression.
The film doesn’t reveal why Marisol is living in New York nor how or when she came to reside in the United States. The omission reinforces the fact that this information is irrelevant. Marisol is so deeply humanized in subtle gestures and moments that she elevates to hero status without the distraction of a complicated backstory. Marisol works hard, is devoted to her child, and shines a bright light onto a bleak world.
Marisol is a beautiful film. It’s at once simple and complex, and is crafty to take viewers’ empathy by the hand and place the viewer in a passenger seat next to Marisol.
You can learn more about Marisol by visiting Form & Pressure Films’ Instagram, Twitter, and website. See what else Zoe Salicrup Junco has directed on her website. Learn more about Julie on her profile.