It is obvious from the outset that Rocio, from Buenos Aires, is a great kid – optimistic, chatty, sympathetic, sporty and ambitious. What she pointedly refuses to do is to hide her traumatic past – one defined by rape and an attempt by her assailant to remove all evidence of the attack by setting her body alight.
But Rocio’s cousin Aldana was also a victim of sexual torture: in her case continuously, by her father with whom she lived after her parents separated. Laura Bari’s highly poignant and at times beautiful portrait of the girls serves as a powerful testimony to their survival instinct and how a full and vital life is possible post-sexual trauma. As Aldana asks, “Do we let the past control us for our whole lives, or do we decide to grow?”
The film’s core scene is a difficult watch. By the time it arrives, director Bari has sown enough seeds to prepare for us for the revelation, but its impact is considerable nevertheless, and is delivered via dialogue. In a single, static 15-minute take, each girl relates her experience – not to camera but to each other, offering tears of condolence and arms for support.
Other devices are employed to tell the story throughout the film. Rocio’s diary entries detail the extent of her injuries (60% burns to her body: now her uterus, ovaries and reconstructed cervix are fine, although she is not sure if she will be able to have children, and she has just one breast). A close-up camera traces the cartography of her scars and grafts.
Meanwhile, Aldana is given the opportunity to articulate her emotions during a therapeutic performance piece with a Cirque du Soleil workshop in Canada the girls were invited to attend by Bari. (In the same show, Rocio is given the opportunity to show off her considerable gymnastic abilities.)
All the time we are presented with metaphors to help relate their story, their plight and their recovery. A burning effigy is a positive image, heralding the start of a new life, post-examinations. The show in Canada presents the cyclical complexities of life. Together, Rocio and Aldana brave the ice-strewn waterways of Montreal, before breaking through into clear water.
Rocio is also an inspiration to others, most notably the doctors who treated her in the hospital after the assault. According to one, they thought her injuries were so serious they genuinely believed it may be better not to allow her to survive. A little later, she was able to draw picture of how she imagined the operating theatre looked; filled with singing and dancing medical staff. It is a picture the doctors kept, and an experience they try to physically replicate pre-op to offer hope for each new paediatric patient.