In the 2013 horror film The Green Inferno, Lorenza Izzo’s portrayal of a naive activist trapped on an island with a group of deviants is largely forgotten amidst the gratuitous depravity stealing each scene. However, I always found her depiction of a well-intentioned deer caught in the headlights to be the most audacious, captivating, and haunting performance in the film. She gave the college student Justine the vulnerability of a young woman struggling to come to terms with her place in the world, and the prideful innocence that led to her eventual entrapment. And she does it with the bashful grace that keeps the viewer on her side throughout the entire feature, even after she so adamantly refuses to stay in her own lane.
That grace is on full display in Women is Losers, Lissette Feliciano’s boldly original and beautifully bittersweet film, based on true events, which just premiered at SXSW. As Celina Guerrera, a bright and talented Catholic school girl in 1960s San Francisco who finds herself in hot water after an indiscretion creates a series of devastating consequences, Izzo turns her character’s inner monologue into movements and gestures. She moves with the poise of a dancer, her footsteps like explosions on slanted sidewalks, her shoulders swaying like the tallest treetops in the afternoon breeze. This is a star in the making, and the world would do well to take notice.
Izzo’s performance is not a sensitive one by any stretch of the imagination. Nor is the movie, for that matter. Her spirit may be ambitious in nature – a born mathematician, she dreams of a career and a white picket fence and a way out of her dead end neighborhood – but she keeps getting pulled back into the compounded obstacles of being young and alone. She sets out to rise above the oppression of poverty and invest in a future that sets new precedents for the time in which she resides, but she falls in love with a boy on leave from the military and winds up with a child out of wedlock. She works multiple jobs, as a typist, as a janitor, and she saves as much money as she can manage, but her greedy father demands she pay more than half for her share of the rent because in his eyes, she’s still just a sinner living under his roof. Her options for the future are limited, and in her actions we witness a woman trying her best to carve out a space for herself in a world that seems fit to punish her for daring to exist. Every time she moves, the air around her seems to shake, her slender frame struggling against an invisible weight, the camouflaged chains of her socioeconomic status painted by silence.
It certainly seems intentional that gestures are at center stage in Feliciano’s directorial debut. Her first feature film brings a vibrant and aggressive perspective to the feminist movement, one that comes across as raw and confident, although its meta nature may aggravate those who view breaking the fourth wall as an ongoing parlor trick. Inspired by the real life events that both she and her mother have experienced first hand as Latina women in America, Feliciano wrote, directed and produced the film, which tells the story of a single mother struggling to survive, but recounts the familiar storyline with the added ferocity of someone who refuses to adhere to the caste system they were born into. As the movie moves through the 1970s and Celina hops from job to job, slowly learning the tricks and tools she can use to make capitalism work for her for once, it’s hard not to see the rambunctious rhythm of her frantic strolls as steps in a dance number, the mustard yellow of her sweater popping against the gray gravel, her twitching hands vibrating sheer frustration through her skin.
Anybody who has grown up as anything other than a rich, cis white male in the States can relate to the idea of nothing in this life being free, of their time being worth half as much as that of a trust fund kid. And yet by setting up each scenario for the audience as if we were taking part in an immersive play, the film becomes physical. When Celina erupts in a moment of fury, shouting at the screen, asking us if we’re ready to crawl out of our skin, it’s difficult not to feel her fire, her heart is so close to ours, the heat palpable, broiling frenzied flames.
The result is a movie that shifts in tone, but purposefully so. Women is Losers exists inside of its own sub genre. Through the use of scrappy shoestring budget creativity and infectious energy, both director Feliciano and her star Celina stubbornly push the potential of their plot far beyond what anyone expects of them and their limited means. It’s also refreshing to see a film focus not only on the journey of its protagonist, but her supporting characters, as well, covering the paths of those from Japanese and Indigenous backgrounds in addition to Celina’s. But at the end of the day, this is Izzo’s show. Her performance breathes new life into a story we’ve seemingly seen countless times before, now made anew.
/Film Rating: 9 out of 10
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