When They Left (2019) *** Visions du Reel 2019

April 11th, 2019
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir: Veronica Haro Abril | Doc, Ecuador, 61′

In When They Left Veronica Haro Abril tells the story of a dying community in her native village of Plazuela, Ecuador. A series of pithy, melancholy but evocative reminiscences recall a once vibrant mountainside community. But Abril discovers something else in its place.

These gentle old folk are serene and positive about their lives as they go about their daily tasks to maintain self-sufficiency. Lucrecia collects lemons and harvests her potato crop in the orchard:  “I don’t have time to be sad. We love the this place. I don’t know about the people who come from the outside, but for me it’s beautiful”. And she’s right. Abril’s film very much connects  to the global narrative of human survival for remote communities conveying the peace and tranquility of a simple but socially connected place where the villagers are still very much in contact with their family. In some ways the young have lost out by leaving their elders to go the city. They may gain in some ways, but they miss out on the counsel and experience of the older members of the family. For the older generation, the animals are their new ‘children’ offering them produce in return for care. There’s so much to be recommended about village life and these people are never lonely because they have each other to talk through their worries and health concerns. Consolacion and her dog look forward to the arrival of the ice-cream van. 33cents for a scoop of freshly made blackberry seems a reasonable treat. Another tends to her bees with her friend ‘mammita’ donning their makeshift outfits, their hands are left bare. And the honey is fragrant and plentiful. The final act sees them preparing for a musical get-together. The men playing their instruments, and dressed in traditional garb, the women dancing.

Set on the widescreen and in intimate close-up, Abril’s elegant framing, long takes and limpid visuals make this a relaxing and calming experience, the ambient sound of birds and the soft breeze in the trees is pleasant and invigorating. In the end When They Left is not about loss or sadness but about the intense calm that togetherness brings once life’s struggles are over, reflecting the wisdom and serenity of a life well lived for a philosophical generation who have a great deal to teach us in many ways. MT.

VISIONS DU RÉEL | 3 – 13 APRIL 2019 | NYON SWITZERLAND

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