A teenage girl looks on with both envy and disapproval as her mother shimmies on the dance floor in the arms of a lover. “Beautiful,” observes a friend. “I know,” says the daughter, bitterly, before falling asleep in her nanny’s lap, wishing she were nestled beside the twirling, glowing woman instead. Winner of the Orizzonti Award for Best Short Film at the 2020 Venice International Film Festival, Mariana Saffon’s Between You and Milagros examines this friction between parent and child, following Milagros (Loren Paz Jara) as she clings desperately to her free-spirited mother. The film, set in rural Colombia, two hours outside of Saffon’s hometown of Medellín, unfolds naturalistically against a richly textured backdrop of flora and fauna, though the idyllic setting never obscures the uncomfortable class tensions that define Milagros’s upper-middle-class upbringing. As her mother (Marcela Mar), an exuberant single woman still in the prime of her life, pursues romance, the ambivalent Milagros is roped into activities with the housekeeper’s daughter and other local kids, leading to a tentative flirtation of her own and an eye-opening confrontation with death.
A coming-of-age tale that doubles as a meditation on the ideals that define motherhood, Between You and Milagros plumbs the complicated relationship between its two protagonists at a transitional moment in their lives with empathy and grace. To celebrate the film’s Criterion Channel premiere (alongside Dominga Sotomayor’s Too Late to Die Young), I spoke with Saffon over video chat about her early influences, her improvisatory approach to filmmaking, and the cultural dynamics that animate the film.
What led you to want to become a filmmaker?
When I was a teenager I used to spend weekends in Bogotá with my stepsister. Because she was in law school, she’d rent films to keep me occupied while she studied. I remember watching six or seven a day and feeling like I was beginning to understand more about myself through them. I was first introduced to films by American and European directors like Ingmar Bergman and Woody Allen, which I enjoyed, but when I discovered the work of Lucrecia Martel, like La Ciénaga and The Headless Woman, I realized I had found something I could truly connect to on a deeper level. At that point I began taking classes in communications and audiovisual production in Colombia, and eventually I made my first short film while enrolled in a filmmaking course. I then applied to Columbia University’s film program—twice!—and got in on my second attempt. Between You and Milagros was my thesis film for my MFA.
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