Vicenta, an Argentinian mother, desperately seeks an abortion for her mentally disabled daughter after she’s raped by her uncle and faces a biased and incompetent judicial system. Denying women their reproductive rights is, unfortunately, a common story in Latin America (See Fly So Far, also at Hot Docs this year). But this one is told in an entirely uncommon way. Director Doria deploys plasticine models, punctuated by live-action news clips, to set the scenes, which unfold as a voiceover addresses the story to Vicenta.
It’s the cinematic equivalent of a graphic novel, the likes of Art Spiegelman’s intense Holocaust book Maus: gripping and painful.
Vicenta is a poor, illiterate and loving mother to her daughter Laura. When Laura begins to vomit incessantly, the two go to the hospital to discover that the young woman is pregnant. When Vicenta learns the truth of Laura’s sexual assault, she sets out to secure an abortion, which in Argentina is legal, in the case of rape.
Having to make many trips to the hospital for blood work and ultrasounds, with her sister by her side, Vicenta loses her job and spends weeks in transit. A doctor is sympathetic, but by law, can’t terminate the pregnancy without the consent of the father, which moves Vicenta to make her case public, causing a firestorm of outrage from feminists.
At first, it looks as if the pushback will work in Vicenta’s favour. But doctors can’t go forward for more reasons: the rape has to be proved and Laura’s claim to a disability must be legally determined. Even when Laura is assessed as having her disability, an anti-abortion counsellor testifies that motherhood may actually be a good thing for her. In the meantime, anti-choice forces are determined to force Laura to continue with the pregnancy and put the baby up for adoption. With judges sabotaging the process, psychologists grinding their anti-choice axes, there seems no end to the process.
And time is running out.
The film is upsetting–but it’s not only that. Along the way, Vicenta finds her voice. She learns to read and lands a job as an assistant at an elementary school. And she galvanizes pro-choice forces to the point that they support her in a legal suit against the Argentinian state before an International Court.
All over the world and in some of the most unlikely places–Poland, Brazil, Ireland–women have been rising up against patriarchal suppression of women’s reproductive rights. Add Argentina to the list.
Vicenta premieres at Hot Docs 2021.