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ANGÉLICA (2016) review

August 19, 2021


written by: Marisol Gómez-Mouakad
produced by: Marisol Gómez-Mouakad, Rocia Zambrano and Ignacio Decerega
directed by: Marisol Gómez-Mouakad
rated: not rated
runtime: 100 min.
U.S. release date: August 20, 2021 thru September 2, 2021 (streaming at Facets Cinematheque)


After screening at film festivals in Puerto Rico and New York City back in 2016 and 2017 (respectively), the identity crisis drama “Angélica” arrives in theaters, well, virtually at least. It just so happens to focus on a woman who finds herself having to choose between those two locations. This feature-length debut from writer/director Marisol Gómez-Mouakad, who also serves as co-producer and editor, finds the Pierto Rican filmmaker making a deliberate effort to shine a light on race and sex discrimination with an even sharper focus on colorism amongst Latin American culture. The themes may be tackled in a not-so-subtle manner, but one can’t help but notice that they are specific themes that are long overdo for consideration.

Born and raised in Puerto Rico, Angélica (Michelle Nonó) strives to make a life for herself in New York City as an aspiring fashion designer. Alas, she finds herself working a mundane sewing job while living with her boyfriend, Jose (Yamil Collazo), who expects Angélica to cook every meal for him while feigning interest in her career aspirations. She soon finds herself returning to Puerto Rico after her father Wilfredo (Willie Denton) is hospitalized due to a stroke. Initially intending to be there for a short visit, assisting her mother, Angeles (Johana Rosaly), in caring for her recovering father as he is discharged, her stay is extended – despite the risk it puts her job back in the States – when she feels the pull of family.



As Angélica stays longer in her homeland, her contentious relationship with her judgmental mother grows increasingly abusive and problematic. Angeles is the kind of mother who has nothing encouraging or supportive to say to her daughter, yet she would never admit it. When Angélica arrives, her first stop from the airport is the hospital to see her father, where her mother hovers at his bedside. Within the first few minutes Angélica is there, she is told her hair and clothes look awful and she looks like a bum. There’s something wrong here.

We come to learn that apparently Angélica’s problem is her skin color. She is a black woman…a mulato, or Afro-Puerto Rican, and that is how her family sees her first and sadly Angélica feels a constant disdain gaze from the people that should love and care for her no matter what. Angeles is light-skinned, considered white, while her father is a black man.

The interaction Angeles has with her daughter is baffling. She has mastered the art of passive-aggressive judgement, whether she sits (or stands) in silent or hurtful remarks under her breath. Her mother’s brother, Carlos (René Monclova) “affectionately” calls her “black girl” as does her boyfriend, neither of them aware of their racist remarks. You get the idea she never truly felt respected or appreciated by her loved ones with these nicknames. It all builds up after a while, striking a long-simmering nerve that culminates in Angélica struggling to take a stand for herself.



Gómez-Mouakad has obviously created characters here based on those she has witnessed in real life. It feels like a life experience that is seldom brought to life on screen, yet one that is recognizable. While we may know how darker skinned people are looked down upon within their cultural community, rarely does it play a major part in a lead protagonist’s story. “Angélica” is a challenge to watch at times, because at just about every turn the title character is faced with some kind of judgment. It’s exhausting and at times a little too heavy-handed in its repetitious delivery. She writes Angeles into a one-note stereotype that never lets up, where some nuance and added dimensions would’ve helped viewers understand her better. Instead, we get these bipolar shifts in behavior that grow frustratingly tiring.

At least there is some respite for Angélica in the form of two long-standing friends in Puerto Rica that she can count on for accepting her for not only how she looks, but who she is. There is the supportive Vanessa (Kisha Tikina Burgos), who serves as a solid sound board for Angélica and gets her a job in a fabric store. There is also Juan (Modesto Lacen) a handsome childhood friend who predictably becomes her suitor, offering a patient presence in Angélica’s life, and the rare person who sees her as a fully-realized person. With Juan also being Afro-Puerto Rican, the two have in common the experience of skin-color discrimination and likely feel that the are the lone souls who understand and accept each other.

Whether its current social microaggressions or prejudice ingrained for generations, Gómez-Mouakad sets out to show the varying degrees of discrimination toward Afro-Latina woman. Imagine growing up knowing that your mother thinks your ugly because of your skin color? Your mother. It’s not easy to watch the interaction between mother and daughter in “Angélica” (at times, it is exhausting) and some may wonder if Angeles character could possibly be real. Sadly, there are people like Angeles out there. They are stubborn and difficult because they are fearful and live under a veil of worry and outdated ideologies. If you haven’t encountered such a person, consider yourself lucky.

It helps that Gómez-Mouakad has a talent taking on the lead role in Michelle Nonó who navigates the internal (and at times undeniably external) struggle of constantly being scrutinized for how she looks (especially how she wears her hair, or just her hair in general) as she strives for a way to finally follow her life dream. The troubling familial relationships here are likely to be relatable for some viewers, but what’s most memorable is the damage all of it can have on one individual.

Beyond some of the one-dimensional characterizations, the film’s main flaw is in its editing, which at times shift in an abrupt or jarring manner, pulling a viewer out of the story and almost making it seem like we should be going to a commercial. That could be partly do to the film’s assumedly low-budget. If it was a deliberate choice, it didn’t come out right in the final cut. Nevertheless, Gómez-Mouakad delivers a film that indeed shines a light on a subject that needs an audience, while at the same time holding a mirror to how the world too often refuses to see what is in the inside.



RATING: **1/2



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