Los labios (2010) Poster


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An intelligent, quiet, gentle, thoughtful film
Red-12521 September 2012
Los Labios--the Lips--is an Argentinean film written and directed by Iván Fund and Santiago Loza. The film is about healthcare workers. In particular, this movie follows three women healthcare workers who are sent to a small rural village to perform a health survey, and also to deliver some immunizations and other basic health services.

I can assure you that this movie is wonderful. However, it's definitely not a Hollywood film. If you're expecting car chases, explosions, or horrible creatures lurking in the shadows, you'll be disappointed. This film is intensely moving, but it's quiet, gentle, and thoughtful.

Part of what the workers do is health outreach—finding people who have medical and social problems, and bringing them into the healthcare system. These women aren't typical outreach workers, however, because outreach workers usually come from the community in which they serve. The three workers are clearly outsiders, although they remain in the community for an extended period of time. They ultimately are accepted by the people in the community, and their lives are integrated with the lives of the people they serve.

The directors have called the film a "semi-documentary." It was hard for me to understand what they meant until I saw the movie. What they meant is that the healthcare workers are portrayed by three professional actors. All the other actors in the film are people who live in the village.

The directors told the people that the actors would ask them questions, and the people were free to either answer honestly, or to invent the answers. To me it looks as if most of the people answered honestly. So, we are given a real glimpse into health problems in this rural village.

The good news is that the script is like a training film for how to be an excellent healthcare worker. The health workers treat the townspeople with respect and dignity. They always ask permission before they examine their patients. They are friendly, courteous, accepting, and non-judgmental. They make it a point to learn everyone's names. And they always thank the people when they are getting ready to leave their homes.

Notice the effective use of touch, which can be very therapeutic. Something as simple as putting your finger on a little girl's finger sends the message that I care for you and you don't have to be afraid.

It's obvious that the three workers are performing a valuable service to the community. They are doing this on behalf of the central government, but it's clear they're not getting much support from either the central or the local government. The women must contend with deplorable living conditions and outdated medicine. Raul, their liaison, is a decent-enough guy, but he obviously doesn't carry much clout when it comes to getting the workers what they need to do their work.

When I started this review, I said that there weren't any horrible creatures lurking in the shadows. That's not entirely accurate, because there is a horrible creature lurking there. That creature is poverty. Argentina is a relatively wealthy country, with the highest per capita income in Latin America. The problem in Argentina is the same problem we have in the United States—unequal distribution of wealth. And, of course, the use of that wealth for the wrong priorities.

Los Labios was entered at the Cannes Film Festival. The three women: Eva Bianco, Victoria Raposo, and Adela Sanchez shared the award as Best Actress in the Special Film category. If you see the movie, I'm sure you'll understand why the judges gave them the award, and I think you'll agree that they deserved that award.

Notes: I believe this film--currently with a rating of 6.6--is underrated. It's much better than that. My review is based on my introduction to this movie, presented at the excellent Rochester Labor Film Series.
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