“Hurricane María was like a big mop or a broom with bleach. It swept everything away, and we were finally able to clearly see how screwed we were.”
DOC NYC 2020 REVIEW! The story of Cecilia Aldarondo’s Landfall is of Puerto Rico’s past, present, and future. Her documentary examines Puerto Rico after the devastation of Hurricane María. It follows a diverse array of people in a variety of different locations throughout Puerto Rico. In doing so, it excellently contrasted various solutions to the problems that María exasperated.
From protestors trying to enact change through the government, to a socialist community established in an abandoned school building, to wealthy foreign cryptocurrency investors trying to bring Puerto Ricans out of poverty, I was taken on a rapid-fire tour of the competing interests at play in Puerto Rico. What’s clear is that Puerto Ricans have little to no control over the destiny of their land and society. Some people even acknowledge that if they did ever try to wrestle power from the local government, the federal government would come in to regain control swiftly.
“You can cut off the head, but the monster is still here.”
What emotionally struck me was how, despite being repeatedly failed by local officials, private interests, and the federal government, many of the citizens of Puerto Rico are resilient. Several did leave, but those who stayed did so despite everything that the powers that be threw at them, from polluting their land and water to turning their towns into resorts. Above anything else, Landfall gives voice to the voiceless.
“We’re not equal to them. We never have been. They’ll never see us that way.”
The film’s cinematography played an essential role in highlighting the contrasts between the solutions and situations of the rich and those of the poor. The stillness of the cinematography added deadpan humor to Landfall, mocking the absurdity of villas, resorts, and conferences filled with rich white people. At the same time, native Puerto Ricans, long after the hurricane, are left still cleaning up their neighborhoods, repairing their homes, and taking care of their loved ones, all while looking for increasingly scarce income sources and dealing with an increasingly privatized welfare state.
What defined and held Landfall back was its scattershot presentation. The viewers are never able to fully engage with any of the subjects being followed. The movie swiftly moves on to the next subject, leaving me with a sea of content that was a foot deep. While it served as a good introduction to the current economic, political, and cultural crisis of Puerto Rico for me, it was clear that the filmmakers either didn’t have or lost sight of a clear message with this film. For all that the movie explores, it never felt like it culminated in a whole that was greater than the sum of its parts. The editing that contrasted each section was not enough to give the documentary a clear identity either.
Landfall screened at the 2020 DOC NYC.
"…gives voice to the voiceless."