Silent Beauty 2022
Distributed by Good Docs
Produced by Jasmín Mara López
Directed by Jasmín Mara López
Streaming, 87 mins
College - General Adult
Child abuse; Family relations; Sexual abuse
Date Entered: 07/19/2023Reviewed by Susannah Benedetti, Associate Director, University of North Carolina Wilmington
Jasmín Mara López’s directorial debut is a lyrical exploration of her family’s spiderwebbing secrets, uncovered as an adult when she acknowledges the childhood sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of her grandfather, a Baptist minister. Interspersing home movies and videos with photographs, intimate conversations, daily activities, and hypnotic footage of waves, water, and nature, the film follows López as she shatters the family’s culture of intergenerational silence by sharing what happened to her. We hear audio of her confronting her grandfather over the phone, seeking apology, seeking answers. The man accuses her of dreaming and urges her to become closer to God. “I’m determined to heal, so I push,” she explains.
Her actions spur wide-ranging reactions, from her beloved uncles who turn their backs on her to her mother, sister, and cousins who she learns were also abused by the patriarch. The cycle of healing takes many forms, evidenced by López’s grief and strength, her sister’s recovery work with a counselor, and their mother’s physical and psychological distress after decades in silent denial (so undone, she admits, that she feels “my heartbeat in my hands”).
The abuses against these girls and women fill in a heartbreaking family pattern with piercing clarity, discussed between survivors in minimalist scenes of everyday life. López’s sister describes teaching her young daughter that anyone can hurt her, not just strangers, and she ruminates about where to begin with her counselor due to the legion of assaults she has suffered. Their cousin, now sober with a family, had spiraled into addiction and lost two children to social services; she describes the grandfather as “a wolf disguised as a lamb.” We observe López breaking the decades of silence so that she can find beauty in her memories rather than simply pain, address the isolation and apartness she always felt, and protect the next generation from harm.
Relationships are damaged, new bonds are formed, and the grandfather dies, with his own secrets left for López to uncover. Maintaining her own path and supporting the damaged but resilient women around her, she faces the future with hope and grace in this powerful journey through the pain of the past, enhanced by the evocative music of composer Gil Talmi. Silent Beauty is an intimate portrait of four generations of women in the orbit of a pedophile - those who suffered in silence, those who spoke out, and those who move forward in various and staggered stages of healing - anchored by their loving care of the family’s young children, innocent still.
Awards: Best Feature Doc & NYWIFT Award for Excellence in Documentary Directing, Urbanworld Film Festival; Best Cinematography & Jury Mention for Best Louisiana Doc, New Orleans Film Festival; Special Jury Mention for Revolutionary Cinema, Indie Memphis; Best Feature Doc, Venice Film Week; Special Mention, Documentary, Puerto Rican Heritage Film Festival; Special Jury Mention for Best Latinx Film, Cinema Tropical
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