Lina Rodríguez aims for a new angle on the immigrant experience

Film | Jorge Ignacio Castillo

For most writer-directors, cinema is an individual form of artistic expression. Regardless of the size of the crew, everybody is expected to help make the filmmaker’s vision a reality. It’s like a recipe for petty dictatorships!

Lina Rodríguez doesn’t like that dynamic. The Colombian-Canadian auteur believes in involving her whole team in the process: she lets the actors help craft their characters and welcomes her crew’s input. If her film is about immigration, she’ll bring in members of the Latinx community, sometimes even to play a version of themselves. Her intention is to create links between the documentary form and the “new fiction” she’s trying to establish.

Rodríguez’ third narrative feature, So Much Tenderness, follows Aurora (Noëlle Schönwald), a Colombian environmental lawyer who flees to Canada after her husband is murdered because of her work. Alongside her teenager daughter Lucía (Natalia Aranguren), the refugee must rebuild her life while keeping the ghosts of her past at bay.

More than a plot-driven story, So Much Tenderness is a collection of vignettes that begin with Aurora getting smuggled into Canada in the trunk of a car. The viewer must fill in the gaps in the story as the filmmaker’s priority is to map the mother and daughter’s psyche.

I had the chance to talk with Lina about her film and collaborative process. In her words: “I don’t want to replicate the industrial practices of making movies. I don’t want to become rich by exploiting someone to put it on my film. I make movies to be together, for the human connection.” The following conversation has been translated from Spanish.

There’s a scene in So Much Tenderness in which Lucía gets annoyed after having to repeat herself multiple times in conversation with a native speaker. I felt seen.

It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been in Canada, it’s a daily routine. I had a script for the movie, but there were scenes I only had a framework for, which was the case here. Originally, I wanted to show Lucía with her guard down. I thought that would happen here (taking to a romantic interest). It didn’t work, because the way he was trying to get on with Lucía didn’t suit her, least of all when the first thing he said was “I’m sorry?” Him being incapable of saying “I can’t understand you” but saying “I can’t hear you” is very Canadian.

What were you trying to accomplish by just providing the framework to the actors?

I believe directing has more to do with witnessing events unfolding, otherwise you may miss things. I like to use a documentary approach to open possibilities, so the scenes are not what I write all the time, which I find a bit boring.

It’s clear you were trying to avoid the classic immigrant story.

My intention was to subvert expectations. Normally a movie that opens with someone crossing the border would be about drugs, crime, and prostitution. I’m more interested in what happens when someone enters another country and must deal with the anxiety that comes from uncertainty. ■