Colombia 1998, Amparo, a single mother, struggles to free her teenage son after he is drafted by the army and assigned to a war zone. She is thrown into a race against time in a society ruled by men, corruption and violence.


After a long night’s shift, Amparo, a single mother of two, returns home to find her children are not there. She soon finds out that her son has been drafted during an army raid and will be sent to the front in a notorious war zone near the border. His fate seems sealed. With only a single day left until his departure, Amparo manages to contact a man who offers to alter Elias' files and get him out. With nothing much on her side, she embarks on a race against time to free her son in a society ruled by corruption.

©Ocúltimo_JuanSarmientoG

Born in Medellin in 1986, Simón Mesa Soto studied Audiovisual Communication at the Universidad de Antioquia. In 2014, he finished the MA in Filmmaking at the London Film School. His graduation film, LEIDI, won the short film Palme d’Or at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival and the Gold Hugo at the 2015 Chicago International Film Festival, among many other prizes. His next short film, MADRE, was nominated for the Palm d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 2016 and went on winning many awards worldwide. AMPARO (2021) is his first feature film.

FILMOGRAPHY


2021: AMPARO

2016: MADRE (SHORT FILM)

2014: LEIDI (SHORT FILM)



Simon-Mesa-Soto_©SaraNanclares

A conversation with Simón Mesa Soto


Amparo marks your transition from short films to features. This is a semi-autobiographical story, was it always meant to be your first feature project?

Moving from short films to a longer format was not easy for me. Probably because I generally take a long time thinking about what to do next. Making a feature film, especially with the issue of financing it in a country like Colombia, can be extremely hard. So, it had to be something worth the time and the risk. Of course, this project started from the desire to tell a story drawing upon my own experience. A simple story, and yet quite personal. As I kept writing the script, I realized the issue that the film depicts is one faced by many people in Colombia. On one hand I picked up from my past and from what happened to me and my mother back in the 1990s. On the other hand, AMPARO also reflects a lot of issues of the society I live in. That’s why it was worth investing years of effort to make this story work.


When did you start writing Amparo?

I started between 2015 and 2016. Two years later, I was still writing it as we were looking for financing. I actually wrote during pre-production as the script was not set in stone, but it was affected by many situations even after the film had been cast. The first draft was more personal and autobiographical, but as I was researching the army and the 90s decade in Colombia, I suddenly found more stories and possibilities. The character of Amparo has a lot of me and my mother: some scenes were inspired by situations that I lived through or witnessed directly, but I also included what I learnt about the army in those years, something I found out by reading stories and talking to people. That affected the original story.

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Sandra Melissa Torres gives a brilliant performance as the title character. How did you find her and what was the thing that made you say: "That's my Amparo"?

We had a long casting process looking for potential Amparos around the city. It was an extremely hard decision for me, both because this was my first long feature film and because all the weight of the story was going to lay on the main character’s shoulders. Even the aesthetics of the film were going to be heavily based on her figure and on her face. Sandra reminded me of my mother: there is a physical resemblance between the two of them. When we cast her, we found out that Sandra was Amparo from the first moment. I was really surprised how she would face some situations and approach them as the character. Sandra was not a professional actress, but she sure could act. She was a fast learner as we were rehearsing. We got close to each other and became friendly.


Amparo barely lets her emotions go. Can you talk about creating the emotional path of the story? Did you shoot this in sequence?

This is a low budget film, there was no money for shooting it in sequence. I tried to have everything ready before shooting with Sandra, figuring out both the emotional process and all the camera movements. Unlike Amparo, Sandra is joyful. She smiles a lot and makes jokes. But she understood right away that I was looking for a contained, almost inexpressive way of processing emotions. It’s clear that a lot of things are happening inside her, but she does not express them. There is a certain melancholy in this subtility and the refusal to act out. It was an early decision to have a main character capable of containing her emotions.


The film is set in the 90s, but how much of that toxic masculinity that Amparo suffers has left a mark in the modern Latin American society?

It was more evident back in the 90s, but these issues are still quite present, even if today there is more awareness about them. I could not avoid underlining that element as part of the universe around Amparo. I was interested in exploring how sexism, corruption, and war are deeply rooted in my culture. They can affect our everyday life, like silent violence coming to the surface. I wanted to see how Amparo lives her life as a mother trying to make a living and raising her children, but also how the environment she lives in affects her.


How did you approach and show the injustice and the violence that these characters undergo as they live in an environment ruled by men?

Violence is there constantly, even if it stays hidden. Of course, this is a political film. But I wanted to explore this angle by looking for intimate moments in the character’s life. Her lifestyle is already a symptom of that injustice. It was about trying to create a balance between the human element and the political issue. I was more concerned about how Amparo is human as a character and how she interacts in those situations, even if she is not a perfect person. I was looking for humanity rather than perfection.


Can you talk about shooting the intimate scenes between Amparo and her kids? How complex is to hit the emotional mark when you work with children and young actors? Did they require extra direction?

It’s always about the right casting. Finding the right person will save you from a lot of nightmares. Luciana Gallego who plays Karen, Amparo’s daughter, is a very smart girl. She always did the right thing and never forgot a line. That was impressive, to the point that Sandra was a bit stressed as she felt some pressure while working with Luciana who was just spot on. That pressure brought Sandra to tears one day! This is understandable as Sandra is in every scene of the film, hence she was always running her lines and went through a lot of rehearsals. With the character of Elias, Amparo’s son, I also addressed the question of what it means to be a man. Amparo always addresses a constant weakness in this society, but the truth is this also happens to a man. Elias is eighteen and is going to be drafted. In Colombia a young kid has to grow up strong in order to become a “real man”. No matter if he’s fragile or not. Diego Alejandro Tobón, who plays Elias, is depicting a character who just became a man, but he cries because he’s going to be sent to war. Will he behave the way society tells him to? Will he accept it? This is not just a gender issue. In Colombia, these questions are all-pervasive.


Together with your previous works – Leidi and Madre – Amparo too is a story told through a woman’s perspective. Is this something that encourages your creativity?

I guess it just developed naturally. When I made my short film Leidi, I was concerned about the issue of pregnancy and how it is affected by society. I made Madre to focus on the issue of sexual exploitation of children, always told from a feminine perspective. Of course, in choosing those perspectives I guess I was being affected by my mother. I come from a lower/middle-class background in Colombia, and as a kid I faced a few adversities. My mother was a single mom, and she is a central part of my life. Growing up with her eventually affected my view on life. In a way, I am a witness of her struggle, and I think that is the reason I generated this way of seeing things. It’s funny, I just realized this only after completing my second short film. That said, I don’t want to be focused just on one type of storytelling. With Amparo I realized I wanted to do something that in a way talks to my mother, but also to the people who have been around situations like that. Situations through which my mother struggled.


Getting back to AMPARO as your debut in the long feature films, how long was the shoot and what was the main technical & logistical challenge?

Writing it was a long process. And it took us a long time to finance the film. We shot for 30 days. The camera follows our actress everywhere and I was very obsessed in building a particular choreography for each scene, trying to make it work. It was an intense preparation. The shooting itself went well thanks to a crew that was highly committed to the project. I learned a lot during this process: making a long feature film was like re- learning everything. I felt like stepping into a different world compared to the short films I made. This was a different craft, and it has affected me both at a professional and personal level. It was a life-changing experience.

©Ocúltimo_JuanSarmientoG

Amparo shows a human drama triggered by a very common situation in Colombia that illustrates the vulnerability of women in a society that has become used to war. My film deals with a small act of rebellion by a single mother in a country ruled by corrupt men.

In the 90’s and early 2000’s, army trucks used to raid the neighborhoods of Colombian cities in search of young men without military IDs (a document issued after military service or a medical deferment that is mandatory for any legal procedure or employment), eager to draft them and send them into combat. For decades, Colombia has been mired in internal conflict. For many young men and their families, military service represented the immense fear and anxiety of being sent to a dangerous region and taking part in a war they neither understood nor wanted to fight. Many mothers turned to the black market of military IDs to spare their sons from this fate. These documents, sold by men with connections in the army, were expensive, hence the ranks of the army were crowded with lower and middle class youths from families that couldn’t afford to buy off their children’s freedom.

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The story in Amparo is based on my own experience, the moment in my adolescence when I became eligible for the draft. My mother visited a man to illegally change the result of my exams but could not afford his fee. I was scared, and in a moment of despair I reproached her for the life she had given me and my brother and for her lack of the financial means to save me from having to go away. I still feel remorse for not having appreciated the efforts of a single but brave woman, responsible for two children, my own mother. I grew up seeing her as a "hero". A lonely woman, with no other support but her job, imperfect but full of love. Her life was not what she had expected but she clung so much to her children that she found in us the reason to live.

This film is an homage to my mother but also to other women with similar stories that I found along the way as I was writing the script. Like them, Amparo is a working-class woman who faces the moment her son has been given his marching orders. The film does not narrate the war itself, it concentrates on the two days she has to save her son. We follow her throughout the film and as she progresses in her quest, we discover who she really is. We see her flaws, but also her innermost motivation: keeping her family together. By taking the decision of not giving up her son to the war Amparo faces judgement. In the eyes of her traditional society, she has failed as a mother and as a woman. An antihero. Single and alone, her two children are from different fathers. Two failed marriages and the lover of a married man. With barely enough money to make ends meet, much less to pay a military ID. Her work, in a hospital laundromat, means she doesn’t spend a lot of time with her children.

Elías is spoiled, he has just turned 18 but still has the fragility and immaturity of a child. He does not know what he wants for his life, he does not study or work, but when he is drafted, he is utterly afraid of going to the army. Between Amparo and Elías there is a constant conflict, but also a bond of love so deep they are codependent. Beyond the anguish of fearing that something bad might happen to Elías, Amparo fears losing the one thing that gives meaning to her existence. Her quest to keep him out of the army leads Amparo to question her own life and her decisions. Should I let my son go? Is it my fault that he is the way he is? Should I have separated? Am I a good mother? Additionally, Amparo is questioned and judged by a culture that sees the army as the place where young boys become men, a transition she has failed to achieve with the education she has given to her son.

I liked the idea of looking at the way our society works through the relationship of a mother with her son, in a story where "the hero" is a docile woman, a loving mother, who has two days to overcome all obstacles to liberation, not her own, but of her young son, a man. Amparo fights her battle in an arena filled by men and their judgments. In each of her encounters there is a subtle and silent violence. But she is not a victim, nor does she see herself as one. Even as Amparo’s tale turns dramatic and dark, the traits of humanity and hope are evident. Amparo is guided by the pure instinct of love towards her children to undertake a seemingly useless battle against an environment that constantly questions her morals and her values.

©Ocúltimo_JuanSarmientoG_web

Sandra Melissa Torres was born in a town near Medellín in 1990. She is a devoted mother of two little children, Emiliano and Juan José. At a young age she moved to the city with her family, fleeing from the violence of her hometown. Sandra has worked all sorts of jobs or, as she puts it, she has “fought the streets'' until finding some stability as a saleswoman at a downtown tech store.

One day, while attending a parents' meeting at school, she was approached by a young filmmaker mentioning the possibility of acting in a film. She was quite surprised as the idea might have crossed her mind when watching TV as a teenager, even if she had never seriously thought about it. Perhaps, if she had had more opportunities in her life, she would have studied acting professionally. However, she was too young for the part: they were looking for somebody to play the role of Amparo, a woman in her thirties. And by that time, Sandra was just 28. Nevertheless, as a premonition, she saw herself being the protagonist of that project and campaigned for the role, ending up convincing the filmmakers that she could indeed be an actress. That was the moment she became Amparo.

After completing the work on the film, Sandra went back to her job at the tech store. She now wants to study acting and have a deeper understanding of the craft.

©Ocúltimo_JuanSarmientoG

Sandra Melissa Torres: Amparo

Diego Alejandro Tobón: Elias

Luciana Gallego: Karen

John Jairo Montoya: Victor

©Ocúltimo_JuanSarmientoG

Original title: AMPARO

International title: AMPARO

Duration (min.): 95

Aspect Ratio: 1,37:1

Format: 2K

Sound: 5.1

Year: 2021

Original language: Spanish

Country(ies) of production: Colombia Sweden Qatar

Production Companies: Ocultimo

Co-production Companies: Momento Film, Flare Film, Medio de Contención Producciones

With the support of: Cine Crea Colombia, Swedish Film Institute, Doha Film Institute, Magin Comunicaciones, Goethe Institut Colombia

Writer, director: Simón Mesa Soto,

Cinematographer: Juan Sarmiento G., adfc, bvk

Producers: Juan Sarmiento G., Simón Mesa Soto

Co-Producers: David Herdies, Martin Heisler, Michael Krotkiewski, Manuel Ruiz Montealegre, Hector Ulloque, Medio de Contención Producciones, manuel@mediodecontencion.com

Executive Producers: Manuel Ruiz Montealegre, Hector Ulloque Franco

Editor: Ricardo Saraiva

Art Director: Marcela Gomez Montoya

Composer: Benedikt Schiefer

Set Sound: Carlos Arcila

Sound Design: Ted Krotkiewski

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