SXSW 2022 FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW! The extremely low-key nature of Iliana Sosa’s lyrical, despondent documentary What We Leave Behind only complements the director/co-writer’s intimate approach. At a little over an hour, it’s as simple as filmmaking gets: just Sosa, her camera, and her grandpa, Julián. Yet as the inevitability of its ending becomes clear, the languid narrative gains a gentle poignancy.
The nonagenarian Julián is building a home for his kids in rural Mexico, so they would “all get along.” A widower since he was 45-years-old, he still visits his family in the U.S. (specifically, El Paso, Texas) from time to time – yet he remains loyal to his homeland. He isn’t afraid to die and talks wistfully about the past. Sosa herself narrates several poetic interludes, wherein she reminisces about things like when “it was easy to cross back into the U.S.” But it’s Julián who forms the heart of this little love letter.
“…Julián is building a home for his kids in rural Mexico…”
Despite the simplicity, there is skill to Sosa’s technique, most apparent in the symmetry of her shot composition and the visual beauty she captures. Roosters crow against violet skies. Julián shaves in a garden, then, in a perfectly-framed image, sleeps in a cot outside a house, underneath hanging laundry. There’s a visit to a graveyard and several demolished buildings – allusions to the pitiless passing of time and the decay of things past.
Sosa avoids judgment, her love for her grandpa evident in every frame, in the stories she tells of crossing the border, and especially in the nostalgic recollections of Julián (“He’d wear his sombrero wherever he went.”). Julián trying to make the most out of the time he’s got left is heartbreaking.
“Life is hard work,” the aging man says. What We Leave Behind is about generations passing on their hard-earned wisdom. It offers an insider’s glimpse into our neighbor’s culture. Some may find its lack of emotional peaks – save for, perhaps, the ending – exasperating, while others may regard it as a well-edited and shot home movie. But look a little deeper. There’s real poetry here.
What We Leave Behind screened at the 2022 SXSW Film Festival.
"…there's real poetry here."