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Courtesy of Sundance Institute

MOVIE REVIEW
La Pecera (The Fishbowl) (2023)

Noelia (Isel Rodríguez) is a filmmaker in her early 30s living in San Juan, Puerto Rico. She has a colostomy bag and a boyfriend named Jorge (Maximiliano Rivas), whose cloying concern for her is more annoying than the colostomy bag. A fun night celebrating a friend’s birthday involves Jorge serenading Noelia before the entire bar, but also giving her an unpleasant lecture about her behaviors on the way home. This means when Noelia and Jorge get some further news about her health, she shuts him out completely. Instead she gets on the ferry and goes home to her mother, Flora (Magali Carrasquillo), a widow who lives on an island called Vieques and spends her free time clearing the local beaches of land mines the American military left behind. She wears a homemade suit for protection, so it’s fine. Besides, nobody else wants to do it; and somebody has to.

Noelia’s pain and Flora’s worry are intertwined and inescapable, though Flora copes through action while Noelia does by recording what she sees. On top of this, the television is full of the news that Hurricane Irma is coming; the locals are boarding up and retreating to higher ground. Noelia is contemptuous of the weather. But in the same way that a body can’t escape its fluids, the planet can’t escape its atmospheric pressures; you have to take care of yourself else you’ll get hurt. The mood created by P.J. Lopez’s cinematography, Maité Rivers Carbonell’s sound and Clara Martínez Malagelada’s editing is as palpable as the wind in Noelia’s hair and the sun beating down on her skin. There are also a number of astonishing shots – a hand swirling through bioluminescent matter in the sea, a horse entirely covered in sand – which create a keen sense of physical beauty and wonder.

The history of Vieques is the inescapable subtext, not least that another of Flora’s friends has just died of cancer and their friends insist Noelia joins the memorial service. On arrival Noelia bumps into an old friend, Juni (Modesto Lacén), who takes her to an abandoned military bunker to graffiti obscenities over the ugly, empty space. Juni is also part of a guerrilla environmental group whose members are documenting military waste left in the waters around the island, so when Noelia unwisely insists she’s capable of helping no one has the ability to stop her. The gaspingly beautiful dive sequence is filmed as a swan song for these gorgeous spaces that are too dangerous, due to human choices, for anyone to explore.

Writer-director Glorimar Marrero Sanchez, in her feature debut, doesn’t overdo the metaphor of the cancer in Noelia’s body for the way American imperialism has treated Puerto Rico, but the point is there for all to see and why it was part of the Sundance Film Festival. It’s rare for a movie which is so obviously designed as a metaphor to work so well separate to that, but this story of sickness and solace is gorgeous and moving enough to succeed on both levels.

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