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ROTTERDAM 2019 Tiger Competition

Review: Nona. If They Soak Me, I’ll Burn Them

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- Taking part in the Tiger Competition, Camila José Donoso’s third film finds an unexpected muse in the director’s own grandmother

Review: Nona. If They Soak Me, I’ll Burn Them
Josefina Ramirez in Nona. If They Soak Me, I’ll Burn Them

Although inspired by real-life events and her own grandmother, Camila José Donoso’s Nona. If They Soak Me, I’ll Burn Them [+see also:
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 is also a work of fiction – a fact that almost makes one sigh with relief, as the opinionated Josefina Ramirez is clearly not your ordinary old lady rewarding kids with sweet treats. World-premiering in the Tiger Competition at International Film Festival Rotterdam, Nona follows her escape to the Chilean coastal town of Pichilemu, which she doesn’t even like all that much, after exacting some well-deserved revenge on her ex-lover. Before long, a series of mysterious fires awakens the sleepy town, but somehow Josefina’s little summer house remains safe and sound. Untouched by flames, if not by gossip. 

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With a simple enough story to play with, one that could easily engage in a casual chat with Lee Chang-dong’s Cannes breakout Burning, José Donoso ends up with a film that’s really more of a loving, funny and yet brutally honest portrait. It’s safe to say that Nona, fascinated by the ongoing destruction, doesn’t feel too sorry for her suddenly homeless neighbours. It’s unclear what kind of experiences she has been carrying around with her, visibly hardened by the Pinochet regime and perhaps still not quite convinced by the much-heralded changes since. For all her warm encounters with her granddaughter – and there are plenty of those – she is alone. And, as pointed out by the members of Monty Python, there is nothing good about a lonely life reduced to “bathing, dressing, undressing and making exciting underwear”. Or, in this case, perhaps something even more sinister.

Half home video, half pure creation, Nona. If They Soak Me, I’ll Burn Them sees the Chilean director trying to figure out a way to get closer to the person she loves – close enough to establish a bond, yet remaining fully aware of her flaws. No wonder – Nona is, forgive the pun, a real firecracker, dancing in the dark like nobody’s business and never forgetting to dye her roots, immediately dismissing any comment directed at her age. She is impossible to describe, tough and yet capable of feeling a pang of guilt when looking at a pair of old pyjamas, now demoted to a sad shred of rag that she uses to clean her shoes before entering the house. The film mirrors this well, switching between formats, be it a scratched video or a digital image as sharp as the leading lady’s red coat, and establishing different realities, with each and every one of them just as important as the others. And what’s the truth about Nona and her nocturnal activities? You might never know. 

Nona. If They Soak Me, I’ll Burn Them was written by Camila José Donoso. It was produced by Rocío Romero, Camila José Donoso, Tatiana Leite and Alexa Rivero, of Chile’s Mimbre Producciones and Transparaíso Films, Brazil’s Bubbles Project and French outfit Altamar Films. Its sales are handled by Transparaíso Films.

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