We live in scary times and it is truly beyond words that a women do not have a say on their own bodies

Araceli Lemos

Balancing between magic and realism

Text: Yorgos Papadimitriou || Photographs: Ki Jin Kim
Araceli Lemos

Since the very start of her journey in filmmaking, her short films Debbie and Janice as Maids (2010) and Miguel Alvarez lleva peluca (2012), she had shown the gift, as well as the urge, to move in limbo worlds. Araceli Lemos’ debut full-length feature, Holy Emy, simply confirmed her talent to craft images and stories that break free from the preponderant gaze and the standard route. Holy Emy took part at the International Competition of the recent 62nd Thessaloniki International Film Festival, winning the WIFT GR Award, as well as the JF Costopoulos Foundation Award (ex aequo with the movie 18 by Vassilis Douvlis).

In order to make her film happen, Araceli Lemos permeated the community of Filipino immigrants in Athens, to an extent that goes way beyond the level of a thorough research. What ignited her to take on this topic? “I used to live in the area of Ampelokipi, the “little Manila” of Athens, and the idea of having two Filipino girls as the main characters of my film started to grow on me. So, when I decided to visit the Catholic Church of Piraeus, I immediately sensed that I was in the right place. I found myself surrounded by people that interested me, people I wanted to discover. While my initial instinct was to remain an observer and record, it was hard to stay uninvolved. I was invited to attend their rituals; I began to get acquainted with people, to absorb experiences. However, I knew it would be a challenge to take it to the next level, to transform these impressions to a movie”.

The film’s main character seems to be entangled between two equally oppressive worlds: her compatriots’ landlocked community and Greek society, which seeks to exploit people like her. Does cinema have the power to shed light onto stories destined to remain unseen? Here’s what she replies: “I believe that we make a strong statement by choosing what to portray in our films, how to depict our topic, and what we make of it. Yes, cinema can bring forth such stories, but always with caution so as not to reproduce relations of authority. I tried not to lose track of my own viewpoint, constantly requesting for feedback, so that my film wouldn’t end up casting a touristic glance at the very notion of otherness. In addition, there’s a personal hue to my film, at least to the extent that it offered a safety net for me to lay down my own experiences and thoughts.”

One of the most fascinating traits of the film is its ability to balance, in terms of style, ambiance and plot, on the transcendental borderline between “magic” and realism. What was her approach so as to achieve such a powerful blend? “I wanted the boundaries between reality and magic to be dim, so that the story would unfold in a reality of its own. It was something I discussed with all my key collaborators, such as cinematographer Ki Jin Kim and sound designers Persefoni Miliou and Kostas Varympopiotis, so that we would be on the same page. It is a story revolving around miracles, the things we are unfamiliar with and fail to grasp, the charisma of certain people, superstitions and faith. My goal was to perch on this intermediate stage that leaves open space for interpretations”.

In the universe created by Araceli Lemos, the human body is endowed with an allegorical and fundamental importance, amidst a rough period when even the most inalienable women’s rights are vulgarly attacked. “We live in scary times and it is truly beyond words that a women do not have a say on their own bodies. One would expect that things would be moving to the right direction, but lately it seems that we are going backwards. In my film, the two girls are initially at a loss as to what they want of their bodies, becoming vulnerable towards a hostile entourage that seeks to exercise control over them. Each girl carries within her a destiny she discovers along the way, by following the desires triggered by her body. At the same time, outside forces try to define them. Emy’s body is armed with a hidden power that both frightens and attracts others. Emy herself is intimated too, of course,” Araceli explains.

As to her future plans, Araceli is more than ready to embark on new journeys. “The movie had its world premiere at Locarno’s Festival in July, while its American premiere took place at AFI Festival. It still works its way to the audience, as I am about to let it go, ready to set my eyes on my next scripts.”