by Christina Nicole
Every so often a film comes along that is exactly what you needed see for that particular time in your life, and I had the distinct pleasure of that clandestine filmic experience when watching Leona.
Leona tells the story of Ariela, a Syrian-Jewish muralist from Mexico City and her search for love and understanding. All of her friends are getting married and having children, but Ariela is drowning out the noise of convention with her headphones while painting. Along the way, she meets Ivan, a goy and they fall in love.
The film’s muted tones and shadowy scenes add a layer of conservative intimacy. The cinematography is both cold and warm in a way that really speaks to the rest of the film. The Syrian-Jewish community is very closed off from the rest of society, but extremely warm and loving within the community.
The love between Ivan and Ariela evokes poetry; it is reminiscent of Neruda’s sonnet 17, “I love you as certain dark things are to be loved,/in secret, between the shadow and the soul.” The cinematography in their scenes together speaks volumes. Their love is a forbidden type of love, as it requires Ariela to choose between her tight-knit family/community and the love of her life.
The beautiful Naian González Norvind co-wrote the film and shines as Ariela. Her acting is great, even in playing the reserved, Ariela, she doesn’t hold back and has the audience hanging on her every word and action. She is breathtaking.
For the film’s co-writer and director, Isaac Cherem, Leona is semi-autobiographical, in its theme of expanding one’s world view and striving for an artist’s life in a community that doesn’t value that level of self-expression. It is a thought-provoking and triumphant first feature film, that predicts greatness is in store for both Isaac Cherem and Naian González Norvind. For me, Leona was a 5 star film. It had heart and a powerful message: choose for yourself! Thank you AJFF for programming such a beautiful film.