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Review of 'Totem': Family Bonds, Childhood Innocence, and Fears

By Daniel Ruiz (Twitter: @tatoruiz), accredited by CineVista at the Lima Film Festival

Lila Avilés' debut work, "The Chambermaid," greatly impressed audiences at various international festivals, including the Lima Film Festival, where it received two awards: the Jury Prize for Best Debut and a First Special Mention from the International Critics' Jury.

This year, her second film, "Totem," also hopes to achieve recognition in the Fiction Competition.

While "The Chambermaid" dealt with a relatively light narrative, focusing exclusively on the world of cleaning staff in an upscale hotel and creating a subtle dialogue about complex hierarchies and career aspirations, "Totem" represents a much more elaborate undertaking. Avilés tackles a story filled with anguish, carrying the weight of deep familial and individual wounds. This exercise converges a broad universe of tales that also encompass frustration and enduring grief. All of this is conveyed through the eyes of a young girl who is beginning to discover the intricate and inexplicable nature of life.

Sol, a 7-year-old girl, arrives at her grandparents' house with excitement to see her father, who is battling an illness and is being surprised with a party. The preparations involve not only the anticipation that everything goes smoothly but also the underlying tensions among each family member and the chaos that ensues when they all gather in one space. The grand house, which appears to have seen better days, feels cramped in the face of the overflowing good intentions of each individual involved in preparing for the party.

Just as she did in her debut film, Avilés takes the time to intricately portray the lives of the people gathered there. She presents a work that speaks of the strength of familial bonds, childhood innocence, and the fears unearthed by the presence of illness, ultimately driving her characters to decisions that, depending on the perspective, might seem unimaginable.

Much like in her debut film, Avilés patiently narrates these family ties, generating a pressure whose release one must wait for. And when it finally arrives, the result is incredibly emotional. Utterly sublime. Its resolution is a collision that, undoubtedly, becomes unforgettable and impactful.

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Image Credits: Alpha Violet

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