“Blanquita,” Chile’s official Oscar entry for Best International Film from rising star Fernando Guzzoni, is a cinematic and narrative revelation. Taking its cues from the real-life child prostitution and pedophilia scandal known as the “Spiniak Case” that rocked Chile in the early 2000s, “Blanquita” revolves around the young lady at the center of the scandal.
Blanca (first-time actress Laura López), more commonly referred to as Blanquita, has been subjected to abuse — emotional, sexual and physical — all her life. Poor and largely unprotected, the 18-year-old Blanquita is rarely championed; rooting for her, as Guzzoni reveals, does not always end where we hope it will.
Backed by Manuel (Alejandro Goic, “The Maid”), the priest of the home where she resides with her baby girl, Blanca alleges that a powerful businessman and a noted politician are part of a child-prostitution ring. As we watch her undergo psychological evaluations, holding her head high with a steely stare as prosecutors try to break her and handling herself in the face of a media frenzy, it’s hard not to be impressed by her bravery.
She undergoes all of this, she tells Manuel, to obtain justice not only for herself but also for the others involved. One of those is Carlos (Ariel Grandón), who has suffered unbelievable tragedies in his young life and is also a victim of the ring, recalling details of one powerful man who called himself his husband. But as the scrutiny continues, Blanca’s world begins unraveling in surprisingly unexpected ways. In addition to the reemergence of her boyfriend Marco (Nicolás Durán, Guzzoni’s “Jesus”), some other truths, not to mention a sex tape, surface in a manner that chips away at Blanca’s integrity and credibility, negatively impacting supporters like female politician Piedad (Amparo Noguera, “Ema”).
Instead of merely recounting a real-life event, Guzzoni has created a compelling thriller that probes deep, posing critical questions about society’s continual failure to protect children. In her fierce determination to obtain justice at all costs, Blanca’s actions, both noble and dubious, point to the desperation and powerlessness felt by so many of these victims. “Blanquita” amplifies just how above reproach an accuser must be to have the slightest chance of even bringing the accused to a courthouse, much less a trial. Without Blanca, the sad truth is the alleged perpetrators would have never been called out — not because there aren’t enough victims to warrant it, but because the high threshold of proof required is dangerously triggering for them.
Rather than take a documentary-style approach, Guzzoni wisely leans into the many contradictions and gray areas that so often accompany the truth. In many ways, the audience follows Blanca’s journey in the same manner Chileans may have followed the real one, experiencing unexpected twists and turns as the spotlight becomes more intense. Artistic flourishes like a scene in which multiple images of Blanca stand side by side are not only striking but also double down on how she has only herself to rely upon, while also subtly reminding us all there are many facets of her that go beyond our initial impression. It also hints at how the process changes her, for better and worse.
As Blanca simultaneously retraces and covers her tracks, Guzzoni’s camera is there, carefully pacing it all. The impressive cinematography by Benjamín Echazarreta (“Los Espookys”) has a moodiness that highlights the inherent drama of “Blanquita,” hinting at the lies and betrayal.
In her feature debut, López perfectly strikes a great balance between Blanca’s toughness and vulnerability, inviting us to view Blanca three-dimensionally — a rarity for a young, poor, Spanish-speaking woman in any region of the world. Thanks to the depth of her portrayal, Blanca is never all-good or all-bad. Instead, she is, like most of us, complex and flawed. Making her all the more endearing is her status as a young mother, dedicated to caring for her daughter (despite having no frame of reference of how to do so) and still risking everything in the hopes of any form of justice or sustainable change.
With his portrayal of Manuel, the priest and Blanca’s primary supporter, Goic (whose own political background includes torture and exile) also invites spirited moral debate. While bringing attention to the many compassionate people who deal with the fallout of this horrific pattern of child sex abuse, Goic’s performance (and Guzzoni’s screenwriting) put a spotlight on the effects of institutional corruption.
Whether one must play dirty to make those even dirtier pay for their crimes is a huge question here. And, of course, any matter involving the Catholic Church and pedophilia invites a larger conversation. Manuel’s complicated relationship with his church — as well as his own personal moral struggles that, thankfully, are more fueled by his outrage than by any sexual impropriety on his part — is no mirror; hopefully it emphasizes the critical transformation needed across the board to create substantive change.
As Carlos, the victimized friend who Blanca vows to protect in her public battle, Grandón succeeds in generating both sympathy and love. Naguero, whose family lineage is tied to past Chilean presidents, brings a dignified and credible presence to the screen as the well-meaning politician, underscoring just how outgunned would-be do-gooders are. And Durán creates great intrigue as Marco, Blanca’s menacing ex.
With “Blanquita,” his fourth feature film, Guzzoni brings urgency to critical questions surrounding the social injustice still inherent in today’s institutions. In a country as socially stratified as Chile, Blanca (like the character’s real-life inspiration, Gema Bueno) battles decades of disdain and injustice. The ugly truth is that society has routinely failed to protect poor women and children, and it’s still failing. Guzzoni uses all his talent to amplify this sad reality and, in turn, solidifies his position as a leader of the New Wave of Latin cinema.
“Blanquita” opens in NYC and LA Dec. 9 via Outsider Pictures.