Spectral Motherhood in Clementina: Violence, Coexistence, Pain

by: & Valeria Arévalos , February 6, 2024

Jimena Monteoliva is one of the key figures in the horror wave that has been growing remarkably in Argentina since the mid-2000s. She is the co-writer and director of Clementina (2019), and has also directed Bienvenidos al infierno/Welcome to Hell  (2021), Matar al dragón/To Kill the Dragon (2019) and Toda la noche/All Night Long (2015, co-directed with Tamae Garateguy). She also directed a short film for Women in Horror Month: Massive Blood Drive (2015), and has worked as a producer for several directors devoted to horror and fantasy, including Garateguy, Nicanor Loreti and Ramiro García Bogliano.

Clementina narrates a case of gender-based violence through a variation of the classic setting of the haunted house intertwined with the theme of family loss. The female protagonist, Juana, is in a state of constant peril and panic, enduringly tormented by mysterious events that can be interpreted either as supernatural or as proof of her insanity. However, it becomes clear that what haunts her is the fear of an abusive partner. The film was produced in the wake of the far-reaching #NiUnaMenos (Not One Woman Less) movement.

Our video essay ‘Spectral Motherhood’ focuses on the shaping of bodies and spaces as vulnerable territories. The depiction of domestic and institutional violence assembles images and sounds that become a metaphor for the emotions that the main character experiences. The video essay also touches upon ideas of motherhood, mourning and the ghost, which are played on throughout the film in a multifaceted dynamic that goes from fragility to female empowerment. In keeping with the director’s approach, which limits the character’s speech to a minimum, and places special emphasis on the expressive and the composition of the staging, ‘Spectral Motherhood’ explores the mourning-revenge dynamic with an economy of words, highlighting the power of the body as a primordial expressive element. Likewise, the musical accompaniment chosen for the video essay highlights the sinister power of lullabies. Juana’s lost daughter reappears as a ghost in search of revenge; she is the driving force necessary for her mother to transform from victim to avenger.

Monteoliva’s work is characterised by evidencing fallible female figures. Her characters fail, learn and return empowered. In her work, female bodies are traversed by pain. They do not make exemplary mothers, nor submissive girlfriends. They are women who then emerge from pain to take control of their own destiny. Despite the focus on suffering, the visual approach is still feminist. Clementina moves away from the idea of excess put forward by Williams (1991) and reverses the male stereotype of the gaze. The masculine and the feminine revolve around a complex mechanism of gazes and a dynamic of domination and submission (Kaplan 1998: 61). In this film, the woman’s body gazed upon through a position of domination. Rather, the woman is presented from a position of empathy, and we accompany her in her healing process.


Kaplan, Ann E. (1998), Las mujeres y el cine: a ambos lados de la cámara, Madrid: Cátedra.

Williams, Linda (1991), ‘Film Bodies: Gender, Genre, and Excess’, Film Quarterly, Vol. 44, No.4, pp. 2-13.


Bienvenidos al inferno/Welcome to Hell (2021), dir. Jimena Monteoliva.

 Matar al dragón/To Kill the Dragon (2019), dir. Jimena Monteoliva.

 Toda la noche/All Night Long (2015), dir. Tamae Garateguy & Jimena Monteoliva. 

Women in Horror Month: Massive Blood Drive (2015), dir. Chelsey Burdon, Jessica Cameron, Patricia Chica, Tamae Garateguy, Jill Gevargizian, Maude Michaud, Jimena Monteoliva, Hanna Neurotica, Gigi Saul Guerrero, Jen Soska & Sylvia Soska.

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