'The Naked Room': Film Review

The Naked Room Still - H 2014
Courtesy of Magic Lantern

The Naked Room Still - H 2014

Emotional pain at its starkest and most moving

Nuria Ibanez's documentary focuses entirely on the faces of emotionally disturbed children being examined by a therapist

Representing documentary cinema at its most minimalistic, Nuria Ibanez's The Naked Room (El Cuarto Desnudo) packs a world of emotion into its structure consisting entirely of a series of intense close-ups. They are of a series of emotionally disturbed children in an examination room of a Mexico City hospital who are being questioned by a gently solicitous therapist. Their faces — alternately sullen, angry, defiant, miserable and haunted — speak volumes, and their anguished confessionals testify to the emotional pressures inflicted on them by parents, authority figures and society in general. This simple yet intensely powerful film is receiving its U.S. theatrical premiere run at New York City's Anthology Film Archives.

The filmmaker refrains from relating any sort of contextual information about her subjects, mostly young girls, who relate problems including body-image issues, sexual-identity confusion and abuse by siblings and others. Several have resorted to self-mutilation, mostly cutting, and some have attempted suicide. One boy, whose one sin was wetting his bed, describes being threatened with abandonment by his father. A 17-year-old girl says that her account of being kidnapped and sexually abused by three boys was met with disbelief by her parents, and a young boy says that he was raped at age eight.

We also hear comments by several offscreen parents, including one mother who refuses to follow a concerned doctor's suggestion that she immediately take her obviously traumatized daughter to an emergency room just across the street.

Ibanez' decision to rigorously concentrate only on the children — we see very little of their surroundings, except for an extended shot of a boy sitting forlornly on the floor of a long corridor — concentrates the emotions on display to a painful degree. Occasionally the cross-cutting among the various subjects results in confusion, as it's sometimes hard to keep their stories straight. But clarity eventually emerges with revelatory results, such as with a young boy who when first seen describes his feelings of emotional desolation after he told a fellow male student that he was his best friend, only to be met with indifference. Seen later in the film, he reveals that he thinks that he's bisexual.

The compressed running time was a wise move for a film of this unflinching starkness. Not for reasons of tedium, but if it were any longer, it would simply be unbearable to watch.

Production: Miss Paraguay Producciones
Director: Nuria Ibanez
Producers: Cristina Velasco, Nuria Ibanez
Director of photography: Ernesto Pardo
Editor: Lucrecia Gutierrez-Maupome

No rating, 67 min.