SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2022 REVIEW! After spending an entire lifetime immersed in all things cinema, one might understandably believe they’ve seen everything already. Leonor Will Never Die is the kind of film that proves such a notion wrong, but not necessarily in a good way. The Filipino action drama, written and directed by Martika Ramirez Escobar, is about unconventionally overcoming writer’s block.
Leonor (Sheila Francisco) is a retired screenwriter living a troublesome life with her son. Facing financial and personal issues, Leonor decides to start writing once again. Unfortunately for her, things do not go well, and she ends up in a coma. Now, she has to finish the script for the action movie in her head to wake up.
Leonor Will Never Die fascinates the audience from its opening minutes. Thanks to the artistic vision of Escobar, Leonor’s dream world and the real one are perfectly distinguishable. She uses the 4:3 aspect ratio and retro color filters when portraying the world and story in Leonor’s head while using conventional color tones and 16:9 for the real world. This trick helps audiences follow the two separate plots with ease and adds some nostalgia to the work.
“Leonor is… dealing with the loss of her son and financial issues.”
The action drama wastes no time developing the characters and does not shy from adding surreal touches to the narrative. Leonor is caught between a rock and a hard place, dealing with the loss of her son and financial issues. Her other son Rudy (Bong Cabrera) is in his last days of youth with nothing meaningful in life. These characters are real and relatable, and that’s another element that’ll keep those watching engaged. By the end of the first half, everything is set for a grand finale. Yet, things then take a wrong turn.
The surreal atmosphere of Leonor Will Never Die turns into a chaotic mess in the second half. Leonor’s dreams in her coma start broadcasting on national TV, and her body mysteriously vanishes from the hospital. Meanwhile, the ghost of her deceased son has a boys’ night out with his father and brother, and to make matters worse, Rudy smashes his head into the TV set broadcasting Leonor’s dream, entering it. In the end, a full-on musical number with everyone singing and dancing occurs out of nowhere. With such magical events happening, none of the lead’s personal issues make sense anymore. Every character arc is just half-baked, and then the film ends prematurely.
I have never had such a contradictory feeling after watching a movie as I do with Escobar’s feature-length debut. The good character setup, engaging world-building, impressive visual style, and emotional bonds that start to take shape in the first half are just shoved into a blender and turned into a weird-looking, tasteless mixture that is no longer enjoyable by the time the story simply decides to stop. The film builds everything up just to smash it and laugh, like a kid playing with LEGO.
It seems that Escobar wants to make the ultimate surreal cinematic escape, but she mistakes chaos with surrealism. The movie tries to be magical, tragic, action-packed, nostalgic, and a musical all at the same time. Unfortunately, that is where it fails, as it never decides what it actually is. One who wants to achieve everything can accomplish nothing, and Leonor Will Never Die is an example of that.
Leonor Will Never Die screened at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.
"…engaging world-building, impressive visual style..."