Movies that have been recorded over many years always give me awe when I watch them. The much talked about and award winning British documentary series Up by Michael Apted and Paul Almond followed the lives of fourteen children from the age of seven in 1964 (7Up), with new recordings every seven years. Several films followed, the last one being called 63 Up (2019). Director Richard Linklater's drama film B (2014) showed a young boy growing up in the years 2002–2013, where the child slowly but surely becomes a young man.
The film's relationship with time is contradictory. Time is fleeting and concentrated, an experience set in frame, but still seconds and sequences can be preserved in a holistic way. Seeing faces get wrinkles and how bodies change, tells something about the director's unwavering commitment and intensifies nostalgia. Peter Torbiörnsson's film Ninosca is one such movie.
The struggle to break out
Ninosca grows up in a family of Sandinist revolutionaries in the mountains of Nicaragua. The film follows her from childhood, through childhood and into adulthood for a period of 40 years. The film starts off as a fascinating glimpse into Nicaragua's unpredictable politics of the 1980s, but evolves into an intimate portrait of Ninosca and her troubled life and marriage (which dissolves), and her struggle to feed the children as she tries to break out from the abusive relationship and the macho culture of society.
Throughout Ninosca's history, we learn that life is, as always, surprisingly robust.
The tall, calm director Torbiörnsson is much in front of the camera and clearly present in important events in Ninosca's family. Eventually, he has become part of the family and is warmly welcomed as "the Swede", but alternately takes on a somewhat more withdrawn role as an observer.
"I have become your witness," says the director (as narrator) to Ninosca in the film. If he has ever tried to help her, viewers will not know. What is told in the film, however, is that the two met when he was in Nicaragua as a war reporter in 1983. The dictator Somoza was just overthrown by the Sandinists. The United States, with its aggressive anti-communism, had built up an army of "contras" (counter-revolutionaries) in the region. Contras were considered terrorists by the Sandinists.
Mined coffee plantation
Torbiörnsson was with the counter-revolutionaries because he wanted – as he puts it – to watch the war from several sides. One of the men he met proudly described how he had killed his Sandinist neighbor. Torbiörnsson sought out the slain man's family and met his sister – Ninosca.
Ninosca's father had previously grown coffee, but had to give up because Contras had mined the coffee plantation and surrounding area. Life as a coffee farmer was difficult, and his parents encouraged Ninosca to take a teacher education. But as a 17-year-old, she fell in love and wanted to get married. The family was skeptical of the caretaker, soldier Tinosco, but he promised to take good care of her. Despite a lack of farming experience, the young couple built a house right next to those who killed Ninosca's brother. Tinosco has trouble adapting to the new life and feels uncomfortable and powerless compared to how he was doing as a soldier.
Dreams and realities
The film skips ten years ahead and clearly shows the difference between dreams and realities. Work is still difficult, and the family lives hand to mouth. "I thought marriage would give me freedom, but I ended up under the yoke," Ninosca says.
She has her hands full with the children and is at the same time trapped in a violent relationship. Tinosco has been given responsibility for the family's agricultural activities, but comes into conflict with Ninosca's brothers as he tries to sell timber in the hidden and take the money himself.
A few years later, Ninosca reluctantly moved from the family to the man's hometown, León. There are even tougher conditions there, and life is becoming increasingly difficult for the country's poor. She has an office job that makes it possible to pay for children's education; husband's salary does not extend. She decides to leave the family, she wants to go to Spain to find work.
Slave labor in Spain
Five years later we see her in Bilbao, where she is exploited as a paperless worker. Employers have no qualms about treating her like a slave. She works as a home help for the elderly and seriously ill. She lives in a cycle of grief and sudden end to life. Pending her legal status and residence permit, she cannot leave Spain to see her children.
Eventually she gets a residence permit in Spain, and after saving money for the trip she returns to Nicaragua and an emotional family reunion. She's been gone for seven years. Her daughter trained as a pharmacist while Ninosca was in Spain.
Ninosca feels threatened by her ex and is afraid that he will kill her because she left him and the children. There are tearful phone calls between her and her ex.
The family's coffee plantation has finally been cleared for landmines, and she can resume her father's farming operations. The dream of building a new home near the kids is within reach.
Hope for a new one Nicaragua is fading as the Sandinist Daniel Ortega has shown the same dictatorial inclinations as his predecessors. But throughout Ninosca's history, we learn that life is, as always, surprisingly robust.
Translated by Iril Kolle