In El Salvador there’s an acting troupe of mothers, mothers who are poor, who were raised and live in a cycle of violence, who have low self-esteem. Before they joined Egly Larreynaga’s therapeutic acting course, their traumas and feelings were impenetrable, only arising in spurts during the course of their difficult lives. The five women at the center of director Marlén Viñayo‘s jovial, yet emotionally-heavy film offer poignant and unthinkable memories in one of the best documentaries of SXSW 2019.
The film opens with the five women: Evelyn Chileno, Ruth H. Vega, Magdalena Henríquez, Wendy Henríquez, and Magaly Lemus with their instructor Egly. We see them at the beginning of their training, as they’re getting to know each other and starting to brainstorm their play.
Their ultimate production will be a product of their dysfunctional and tumultuous memories. Egly spends much of the documentary using activities to draw out their deep receded feelings and traumas — such as using toilet-paper rolls to demonstrate anger and violence against their children.
Sometimes their stories don’t even feel real, such as tales of rape and domestic assault. The unnerving “ease” with which some of the women tell their stories demonstrates why performance art as therapy is effective. The boundaries between fiction and reality bend, bend into shadows where the light has only lightly glanced the surface before. We’re suspended in a disbelief that makes us question how much is performance and how much is truth, yet that disbelief dissipates very rapidly. With each memory that’s uncovered, the more is put into the play. With each memory that’s exposed, the bigger the emotional gut punch.
Viñayo, to her credit in her directorial debut, doesn’t confine her documentary to the acting studio. She embeds herself into these women’s lives. We begin to understand their hardships, their poverty, their work ethic. Their “ease” in telling their stories comes from a systematic culture where they’ve been left for naught — and they’ve become used to it. We also discover how the previous violence impressed upon them is later bequeath to their children creating a deeper systemic cycle. The therapy allows them to confront these instances of punishment to realize that it’s not too late to heal.
And while there’s plenty of heartbreak in Cachada: The Opportunity, Viñayo beautifully captures the bond these women form. She captures their laughing, their caring, their empathy. So while the documentary will leave you awestruck by the unimaginable violence they have endured, it will just as quickly pull you back into moments of levity where one discovers the transformative power of art.
By the documentary’s conclusion, when these extraordinary women do finally perform their play — how well they do is secondary. You’ll still be left with the same cathartic relief as them, the relief that arrives when you’ve created something to heal your heart and when you’ve watched some succeed. Cachada: The Opportunity by Viñayo is a stunningly honest portrait of five incredible women in a culture and country where they have often been neglected, in a documentary where they are not.
An official selection of SXSW 2019