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Latin America

Natalia Lassalle-Morillo

In her film Retiro (2019), Natalia Lassalle-Morillo considers how women pass down memories to their kin as they age. A film within a film, the three-channel portrait combines the scripted film she and her mother made together, behind-the-scenes shots of that film’s production, and interviews with her mother on gendered familial expectations and aging in Puerto Rico. Lassalle-Morillo’s meta approach to story-telling unpacks her relationship to her mother, demonstrating how maternal trauma, history, and myth are made and inherited through disjointed narratives. As a result, the film “reorganizes” ancestral trauma, giving the artist freedom to reject or move on from her inheritance, if she chooses to.

The artist’s mother, Gloria—an actor, director, and screenwriter on the project—worries that history will repeat itself, as her stories, skills, and physical likeness endure through her daughter. She recounts finding refuge in her parents’ home after divorcing a man her parents never approved of, which coincided with the United States’s mid-20th-century industrialization of Puerto Rico, which changed the landscape and trajectories of many Puerto Ricans. Gloria also attempts to revive a garden that she has lost: not because it has disappeared, but in that it has become unrecognizable while within her grasp. When children are no longer recognizable from the tiny people they once were, are they gone forever? Retiro suggests that perhaps repetition can free children from their lineage, creating new beginnings, new myths, and new histories.

Natalia Lassalle-Morillo’s films explore familial, neighborly, and citizen relationships in the context of Puerto Rico’s fraught history with the United States and the resulting imperialist oppression that has altered generations of families’ material and spiritual trajectories. Born in Puerto Rico, the artist began realigning her relationship to the island after returning from the USA, delving into the multiplicity of conflicting histories she inherited as a multi-generational Puerto Rican. This sense of home-lessness—not a lack of housing but the feeling of having one’s home made unrecognizable as a product of colonization—manifests in Lassalle-Morillo’s works through multiplicity: many screens, many stories, and many iterations of a single idea that eventually unfold in its natural conclusion. The artist understands filmmaking not as truth telling, but as exploring the medium’s relationship to theater, where every person plays a part in making a story. By bringing the practice of theater into the camera, Lassalle-Morillo presents a filmmaking methodology that creates its own decolonial rhythms, disrupting Western linear notions of time.