Reviews Short Narrative

La Herencia de Martí [The Heritage of Martí] (2020) – 3 stars

Director: Marcel Buisan

Writer: Marc Pascual

Cast: Paloma Bornay da Silva, Helga Martín Redondo, Carlos Oliveras, Manuel Segura, Felipe Cabezas

Running time: 15mins

For information on The Heritage of Martí, visit the film’s Facebook page.

There are many intersecting strands of oppression, so many that few of us can avoid being snared in their web one way or another. Nationally, culturally, sexually, at home, within the family, we live under socially constructed rules which hang over our heads like the sword of Damocles. Art is one of the key ways we can explore and express what this means and feels like, and this brings us to The Heritage of Martí.

The titular Martí is visited to his deathbed by his daughter, Rosa – a girl in her late teens – and his wife, Isabel. He consoles Rosa, assuring her that Isabel will take care of her. After his funeral, it turns out that Martí had some ideas as to how the two women should move forward with their lives. His will states they can each take what he leaves for them, under the condition that they will keep living in the same house – his house.

The problem is that it is obvious from the very beginning that Isabel has no intention to take good care of Rosa. “I don’t speak Catalan,” is the first thing she tells her, hinting at the coming revelation of Isabel’s true character: the archetypal evil stepmother. Building on that first hint, tension between the two women quickly mounts as the pair come to embody the uneasy relationship between Spain and Catalonia.

An escalating sexual involvement between the duo becomes increasingly toxic, and pointedly the Catalan-speaking Rosa is forbidden from leaving the house by Isabel. The abusive trajectory of the relationship builds to a crescendo in the film’s tragic finale – and clearly Director Marcel Buisan and Writer Marc Pascual have a lot to say about the state of Spain and Catalonia’s relationship, particularly in the three years since the latter’s forbidden independence referendum.

Whether the filmmakers achieve their lofty intentions is another matter, however. In terms of the script, if we take into consideration that Buison and Pascual are drawing inspiration from the Catalan culture, and its struggle against Spain’s historical oppression of the region, we would expect some stronger, more apparent references to be present to help guide viewers with less knowledge of the situation through the metaphor. Personally, I am not familiar with Catalan culture, and was expecting to see it play a more prominent role after Isabel’s first address to Rosa. This may be a pacing issue – and perhaps 15 minutes is simply not enough to do justice to such a story.

A number of technical details do not do the story or its themes justice, either. To begin with, while the photography, lighting and overall image quality is of a high calibre, it is so high that other aspects of the film’s craft pale by comparison. Most notably, there is therefore a jarring difference between the quality of the production’s visual quality and its rough sound design. To be honest, the acting did not do much to help elevate the piece either. The two protagonists could not have the on-screen stature to measure up to such massive symbolism, despite their unquestionable passion.

The symbolism and political motifs ingrained in many pieces of Iberian visual and performative arts are undeniably present in The Heritage of Martí, then, but it does not have the polish and patience required to make those traits come alive. Often, independent filmmakers can fall into the trap of going through the motions, of rushing one project to start the next, and this feels like the case here. More could be made of this; and I would invite Buison to take a step back and think: would he rather spend more time and money on a single project, and probably deliver a more qualitative end result, or is he satisfied by delivering something that may simple check boxes?

Would I watch this short again? No. Would it lure me into the cinema, had it been a feature length film? Absolutely. I could easily see these two women battling between moral and immoral, passion and hate, interest and love over 90+ minutes. Political symbolism has still a lot to give to arts and I would love to see it being used by young filmmakers, especially during this turbulent era of ours.

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