'Litigante': Film Review | Cannes 2019

Litigante Still - Publicity - H 2019
Courtesy of Srab Films
Hard to argue with.

Carolina Sanin stars as a woman struggling with domestic and professional crises in this Colombia-France co-production, a second feature for writer-director Franco Lolli.

Coping with a mother dying of cancer, a young son she's raising without a partner and a scandal at work leaves public-sector lawyer Silvia (an immensely watchable Carolina Sanin) a woman on the verge of despair, if not exactly a breakdown, in the drama Litigante. The opening film for Cannes' Critics' Week — where writer-director Franco Lolli showed his first feature Gente de Bien in 2014 — Litigante, like its predecessor, is a Colombia-France co-production. But despite the Bogota setting and Spanish dialogue, it feels more like another contemporary French realist study with its light-footed, handheld cinematography, argumentative script and naturalistic melodrama. As such, it's an engaging if hardly groundbreaking work, but that earnest stolidity may help Litigante plead its case at further festivals.

Somewhere in her 30s or maybe early 40s, Silvia lives with her five-year-old son Antonio (Antonio Martinez) but has childcare help from her gay best friend and character-of-convenience-rather-than-real-dimension Sergio (David Roa), as well as her sister, Maria-Jose (Alejandra Sarria), and mother, Leticia (Leticia Gomez). But the fast-metastasizing return of Leticia's cancer, a disease she beat back temporarily a few years ago at great cost, means the juggling act for Silvia and her family will be even harder. On top of that, she's been swept up in a simmering corruption charge at the municipal department where she works as the deputy legal officer.

Sylvia gets a merciless grilling on the scandal when she appears on a national radio show hosted by hirsute journalist Abel (Vladimir Durán), but she defends herself eloquently, insisting that accusations may have been levied but no one's been indicted yet. It soon becomes obvious that Silvia's had a lot of debate practice having grown up sparring, bickering and sometimes trading insults with tart-tongued, beady-eyed Leticia, an attorney herself back in the day. When Leticia gets too weary from illness to argue, having chosen at first to eschew all but palliative treatment, Silvia snarls at her sister who serves her back in kind. Even little Antonio is a scrapper given Silvia is hauled in by the school for one of those judgmental meetings with teachers who complain about her son's aggression toward a peer. At least a new romance with Abel, whom she runs into again at a party where he's more charming than he was the last time they met on air, softens Sylvia's temper for a while. However, it's not long until the stresses she's under strain that relationship, too.

In short, the point of the title becomes pretty obvious. Nevertheless, Lolli has a sure touch with his cast and the many arguments that structure the screenplay (credited to him, Marie Amachoukeli and  Virginie Legeay) are sufficiently modulated and adroitly performed so that watching the film for 95 minutes doesn't feel like being trapped on the set of a daytime TV grudge-match showdown, a la The Jerry Springer Show. Indeed, the dialogue always has the credible tang of domestic resentments long simmered over the fire of a family hearth, with each side presenting persuasive views, or at least ones credible in terms of character.

While individual scenes and sequences are often punchy and pleasingly assembled, as a totality the film is less satisfying with an ending that feels especially blah and flat after a much-expected climax. Elsewhere, the subtlety that's earned the movie credit throughout gets chipped away with some sappy touches in the closing argument. Still, that tinge of sentimentality doesn't negate the fact that the movie often nails the fractiousness, fear and pain of caring for a dying loved one, driven home by immaculate performances from Sanin, Gomez and Sarria as two generations of women with more in common than they might like to admit.

Venue: Cannes Film Festival (Critics' Week)
Production: A Les Films du Worso, SRAB Films & Evidencia presentation with the participation of Dago Garcia Producciones, Caracol Television, Ad Vitam, Kinology, Arte/Cofinova 15, EFD Columbia

Cast: Carolina Sanin, Leticia Gomez, Antonio Martinez, Vladimir Duran, Alejandra Sarria. David Roa
Director: Franco Lolli
Screenwriters: Franco Lolli, Marie Amachoukeli, Virginie Legeay
Producers: Toufik Ayadi, Christophe Barral, Sylvie Pialat, Benoit Quainon, Franco Lolli, Daniel García
Director of photography: Luis Armando Arteaga
Production designer: Marcela Gomez Montoya
Editors: Nicolas Desmaison, Julie Duclaux
Casting: Santiago Porras
Sales: Kinology

No rating; 95 minutes