Wishing you all a very happy 2018!
Michel Franco is among the leading lights of Mexican cinema working today. Franco follows up on his impressive 2015 drama ‘Chronic’ with an equally devious and shocking family drama “Las hijas de Abril” (Eng. Title: April’s Daughters).
The film begins with Clara (Joanna Larequi) preparing dinner seemingly unperturbed by sounds of lovemaking emanating from the room next door. When it ends and Clara goes out to make a phone call, her teenage sister and very pregnant Valeria (Ana Valeria Becerril) emerges sweaty and famished, followed by her equally young boyfriend Mateo (Enrique Arrizon). Clara was calling her ‘Spanish’ mum Abril (Emma Suárez) to inform her of Valeria’s pregnancy – something Valeria hadn’t been quite keen on telling herself, and we’ll begin to appreciate her initial reluctance through the course of the film.
Following their parents’ divorce, the sisters have been living in the family’s vacation home, largely keeping to themselves, but the anticipated arrival of a new member into the household had forced Clara to seek out their mum for help. Abril turns up, unexpectedly for Valeria, to take control over matters, with what by initial signs appear to be a genuine concern for the welfare of her daughters and the yet-to-be-born child.
With Valeria struggling with the rigours of motherhood after baby Karen is born, it is often left to Abril’s resourcefulness, experience, and initiative to cope with Karen’s matters. Valeria momentarily takes a back seat and a naive and clueless Mateo, whose parents have already rejected their bastard granddaughter, succumbs to Abril’s whims and schemes, which take on sinister dimensions.
After Abril puts Karen up for adoption without Valeria’s permission, we begin to see her transform, with little fanfare or notice, from a caring mother and grandmother into a selfish, narcissistic, and amoral bitch intent on wrecking the lives the very ones she’s supposed to care and protect. Valeria will be forced to grow up, swiftly, to reclaim her child by exhibiting the single-mindedness her mother is already known for…
Michel Franco’s little gem was one of the few films that truly impressed me at the BFI London Film Festival this year and I’d be surprised if it doesn’t go on to bag a few more awards. The great storyteller that he is, Franco’s off-kilter narrative succeeds in using seemingly austere imagery to deceive and challenge his audience by posing inconvenient questions. The film’s title itself – ‘April’s Daughter’, could more tellingly be named ‘Valeria’s Mother’, because the film is mostly about the mother, played with utter conviction by Emma Suárez – she has us glued to proceedings no matter what we feel about the character she’s playing. Equally impressive is debutante Ana Valeria Becerril who plays the young teenage mother. Needless to say, the film is Highly Recommended Viewing..!
The Nudity: Ana Valeria Becerril
A heavily pregnant Valeria enters the room naked to help herself to a snack while overhearing her sister Clara talking to their mum over phone. The scene is also surprising in that it is the opening scene of the film. She’s also later seen partially naked and sleeping on the sofa when Abril visits.