It’s my particular pleasure to introduce this film because it was the title chosen by a group of HOME volunteers, HOME Young Programmers and film students from the University of Salford at our special ¡Viva! programming day back in November. The participants all got to watch this and one other film, then hotly debate and finally vote on which should be selected for your viewing pleasure this year; and La Chica nueva was declared the winner, much to my personal delight.
La Chica nueva (The New Girl), the debut feature length film from Argentinian filmmaker Micaela Gonzalo, was finished in April 2021. But as you might imagine, the film was a long time coming, and in fact the script had already caught the eye of INCAA, the National Cinema & Audiovisual Arts Institute, back in 2013. From 2017 to 2020 the project really began to build momentum, despite the curveball of a global pandemic, winning various awards for the screenplay and as a Work in Progress; and then La Chica nueva was finally finished almost exactly a year ago, in the month the director turned 34. Soon after, the film was the deserved winner of the Grand Prix Coup de Cœur at the Toulouse Latin American Film Festival.
I mention all this to emphasise that getting a film made is no mean feat, even at the best of times. In addition, I’d like to highlight the communal effort that goes into making a film – no doubt Micaela Gonzalo wouldn’t want to claim all the credit here, and I’ll give a special mention to the co-writer (Lucia Tebaldi), the producer (Eva Lauría), the editor (Valeria Racioppi), and the art director (Mirella Hoijman) – all of whom are women, who are still very much a minority in the film industry. And just for ¡Viva! festival anoraks like me, I’ll point out that Eva Lauría also produced the excellent film The Desert Bride that screened at HOME back in ¡Viva! 2018.
So onto the context of the film, which judging by the film’s references to an approaching football World Cup is probably set in 2018. You’ll also notice a few moments in the story where the background TV or radio news bulletins describe anti-government protests and social unrest. The fact that these snippets of news bulletins are actually translated draws attention to their relevance to the themes of the film, which is very much about workers’ rights and the plight of the precariously employed working classes. In fact, these moments of protest could have come from almost any year since the end of the 20th century, since when Argentina has experienced cycles of social unrest rooted in deep and pervasive inequalities – which sadly have only become more acute since the start of the pandemic.
Perhaps sharing similarities with popular opinion amongst some in the UK, in Argentina it’s said that neoliberal ideologies permeate society to such a degree that poverty is generally thought of as the personal fault of individuals, rather than as a systemic failure to provide equal access to resources and opportunities for all citizens. But as you’ll see, this film resolutely challenges those neoliberal ideologies by championing the importance of community, solidarity and collective action, on both an economic and a personal level.
In the opening scenes of La Chica nueva we meet Jimena, a young woman living in Buenos Aires, who’s struggling to survive by snatching any opportunity to put food in her belly and stay off the streets. When she runs out of other options, she makes the 36-hour journey south to the island of Tierra del Fuego, where her half-brother Mariano lives in the manufacturing city of Rio Grande. Without spoilers, I would like to mention how I see the story arc of a person discovering what it means to belong is so effectively shown to us, in a film which prefers visuals and hinted at backstories to extended scenes of dialogue – notice how Jimena’s facial expressions, body language and physical proximity to other people changes over the course of the film.
As well as Jimena and her brother Mariano, the filmmakers describe money as a sort of third principal actor in the film, because the pursuit – or lack – of it is so fundamental to the characters’ actions. These are all marginalised characters who have been pushed to the limit by an unfair economic system, although they each react in slightly different ways to the situation. Ultimately, the power of collective action is shown to be the mightiest form of defence against economic injustice, with a pretty rousing final scene, although the final outcome for these characters is left open to your own predictions. I imagine these filmmakers are looking over the border into Chile with interest and optimism as a new young socialist president takes power there, but no doubt we all have a long way to go before achieving global – or national – social equality and secure workers’ rights. This is a film designed to invite reflection on the reality in which we live, and on whether we accept, without questioning, the meaning of work, consumption and money.