Dos Hermanas: Uncanny Femininity, Grief & Childhood in Carillo’s Animations
by: Krista Calvo , February 6, 2024
by: Krista Calvo , February 6, 2024
‘Children can lose themselves sometimes. They go to sleep. And grown-ups awake’. These words from Sofia Carrillo’s short horror film Prita Noire/Black Doll (2011) encapsulates Carrillo’s approach to grief, the uncanny feminine and ancestral trauma through stop motion animation. Carrillo, a writer, director and animator from Guadalajara, Mexico, uses this unlikely medium, one mostly associated with children’s cinema, to explore darker themes entangled within Latina culture. Prita Noire (2011) and her 2017 short film Cerulia explore madness resulting from loss and the effects that isolation from the family unit can have on women in a culture where family is of utmost importance. In this video essay, I attempt to use Sofia Carillo’s whimsical story technique to weave together several of her films that tell stories about feminine grief, family and childhood.
Cerulia reveals the story of a woman returning to her childhood home, only to be greeted by her childhood self. The film is a surreal exploration of one’s past, the pain of loss and an inability to let go of trauma. It also shines a light on the roles of Latinas as matriarchal bearers of emotional pain, and how family trauma is passed down generationally. Like Cerulia, Prita Noire explores the persistence of pain and grief through familial connection, and the ways that holding on to generational and childhood trauma can cause that pain to persist. Both films not only speak to gendered roles around grief, but they also address the broader concept of the homogenous view of Mexican culture as purely patriarchal. Mexican culture has been described by some scholars as more patriarchal than other cultures and as less gender-egalitarian compared to mainstream U.S.-American society (Gutierrez and Leaper 2022: 259-270). With the consistent rise in gendered violence and the evident refusal of the Mexican state and federal governments and much of civil society to provide even the most minimal protection to victims renders women vulnerable to erasure (Camacho 2005: 255-292). In telling the stories of the two women in Prita Noire and Cerulia, Carillo shines a light on female pain and grief in a marginalised population that often goes neglected.
The video essay focuses on the relationships between the women in the film and their sister, suggesting that the younger sisters can be interpreted as the inner child or past self. I applied the use of split screen to allow Prita Noire and Cerulia to, in a sense, tell on each other in order to illustrate the ways that Carillo’s narratives are interwoven. The soundtrack is taken from Fuera de Control/Out of Control (2008), another of Carillo’s short films. I initially wanted to include Fuera de Control in the visuals but the resolution was too low in the digital copy I had access to. However, I realised that the soundscape to Fuera de Control also mirrored the visuals I had chosen from Prita Noire and Cerulia, and I was able to weave all three together.
Having been raised by a close-knit family from the same cultural origins as Carrillo, these short films speak to me about female representations of sisterhood, power and control in a predominantly patriarchal environment, and the idea that one carries cultural histories and ancestral trauma long after the death of the previous generation(s). Carrillo uses her medium and cultural history to dissect the roles that women who are plagued by grief are forced to play in order to survive. Her films (and thus, I hope, my video essay), reflect subtle shifts in feminine identity in a country slow to incorporate feminist ideas into politics and social care.
Camacho, Alicia Schmidt (2005), ‘Ciudadana X: Gender Violence and the Denationalization of Women’s Rights in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico’, CR: The New Centennial Review, Vol. 5, No. 1, pp. 255-292.
Gutierrez, Brenda C. & Campbell Leaper (2022), ‘Reconstructing Culture: A Latent Profile Analysis of Mexican-Heritage Young Women’s Cultural Practices, Gender Values, and Ethnic Identity’, Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, Vol. 28, No. 2, pp. 259-270.
Cerulia (2017), dir. Sofia Carillo.
Fuera de Control/Out of Control (2008), dir. Sofia Carillo.
Prita Noire/Black Doll (2011), dir. Sofia Carillo.
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