Wholeheartedly - Short but long
By: Hooman Razavi
Theo Francocci's first short film tells a story so familiar and devastating that Latino single mom struggles along with other themes only in 12 minutes. It could have easily been a long feature, but Wholeheartedly, which has been awarded the Los Angles Film Award and Venice Shorts (2020), use minimalism, strong acting, and dramatic depiction of reality at best its service. The central film theme may be interpreted as alcoholism affecting immigrant and marginalized characters, but deeper, the cruelty of Latino, Mexican, and American urban lives are critiqued.
Andrea Mendez plays the main protagonist Carmen who is seen in front of a mirror in the opening scene. Her ubiquitous fresh face suddenly switches to a fragile woman who seemingly looks at her avatar in a different world. This sudden split foreground the film and story, not so uncommon for immigrants whose identity in America may undergo rollercoaster changes. The audience may take a few seconds to absorb the shock of this opening scene. For the rest of the film, the flashbacks take us to Carmen's world and what she has gone through. It narrates how Carmen met Robert (Kylar Miranda) randomly, to seeing him cheat on her when she goes back from a group session to quit alcoholism during pregnancy. These scenes end with Carmen dressed up living a single-mother life with Isabella, whose face is never shown.
It could be challenging to identify one overarching theme that Francocci has in mind. In some scene, it seems immigration challenges is the target. Alcoholism seems another candidate as both Carmen and Robert suffers from it. The marital issue and mistrust between the two characters and the traditional family role that does not protect the woman could also be highlighted. Nevertheless, the camera movement and framing provides other hints. The camera is mostly in a close-up position focused on Carmen's interaction and behaviors from the outset. It is her world, and the changes in her mental states that the film depicts. The fragility of being ontologically, emotionally, romantically, and financially on your own. Carmen has a mother back in Mexico but unsupportive, she is married, but Robert sleeps with another girl saying that he could never understand her. Even one can argue that the police scene in which he provides some comfort and represents the legal order fails to protect her against the abuse; who is she to turn? The art of making this short film is for the audience to wholeheartedly sense how deep the issue runs and if it could happen to immigrants in the countries we live. Carmen is a Latino woman trapped in the weight of tradition, but she represents the underprivileged gender, race, and class victimized because of the inherent power inequalities backgrounded in the context of immigration to the U.S.
One can also find other themes as infidelity, rampant alcoholism, pregnancy issues, and support system for women in the state of crisis. All are important; however, Carmen seems to be split between the two worlds. She idealizes her new home and support in the family and networks and one real in which she is tossed easily and has no choice but to accept reality. These stark paths and Francocci apt storytelling and camera should be a reminder of the power of short films to narrate societal ills and the struggles of those who fight wholeheartedly long and look for their dreams, but their efforts fall short.