Father Manuel is used to the lashing out, the blind, disruptive rages that can turn into riots at the shelter he runs.
These are damaged kids, and often he’s “the only one in this world who gives a damn about” them, something he may remind them of after this or that meltdown.
His shelter is for sexually-abused children, many of them homeless teens who wind up there, after lifes of forced prostitution and years of abuse, telling him their stories, stories he tries to get the law interested in pursuing. Police-assigned doctors will meet with the kid, make an assessment and decide whether or not this damaged minor will be a convincing witness for the prosecution.
But you doctors, Manuel fumes at one such panel, “are why these rapists keep getting away with it.”
One of the most troubled is Carlos, who bears the physical and emotional scars of years of horror. The only one who can calm him when he loses it is Blanquita, the 18 year-old who has lived in and out of this shelter almost all of her life. When she comforts Carlos, she hears tales that mirror some of her own experiences as a prisoner of a child prostitution ring. Familiar geography — living under “the Chuck Norris overpass,” seemingly anonymous clients sharing traits and are perhaps too rich and connected to touch.
When the law comes down on one such figure and a public scandal, Blanquita tells Father Manuel she wants to come forward. Cool, calm, furious and focused, she will be the witness Carlos never could be — credible, committed and hellbent on seeing this through and the guilty, including a senator, brought down.
“Blanquita” writer-director Fernando Guzzoni (“Dog Flesh,” “La colorina”) turns this grim, gripping drama into Chile’s Best International Feature Oscar submission. He builds this story around new star Laura López, who makes Blanquita convincingly tough-minded, and also a teen mother with teenaged temperament and impulses. She leaves her baby in the care of others to hang with peers, enjoys nights at the carnival like anybody else her age.
But regarding her past and her story she is all business — dropping intimate details on the congresswoman who takes on the prosecution of a colleague, sticking with her story even when Chilean justice has her and the accused interviewed in the same room at the same time.
Alejandro Goic (“The Maid,” “Chile ’76”) is equally compelling as Father Manuel, a righteous man who believes Blanquita and her certainty, even as the viewer is given reason to develop doubts.
Inspired by a true story, “Blanquita” has a touch of ends-justify-the-means about it which the viewer can embrace or reject. But as we hear details of the sorts of things about which there is no doubt, the perversion, cruelty and impunity of the well-connected accused, it’s easy to dig in one’s heels like Blanquita herself, hoping for the best, hoping that something resembling justice will come out of this version of “the truth,” no matter how twisted it might be.
Rating: unrated, adult content, graphic discussions of child abuse, profanity
Cast: Laura López, Alejandro Goic
Credits: Scripted and directed by Fernando Guzzoni. An Outsider Pictures release.
Running time: 1: 38