This past May, Melina León made history with her haunting debut feature, Song Without a Name, as the first female Peruvian director to premiere at Cannes. Just this past week, her film’s Asian debut left audiences in tears at PYIFF 2019—where, due to an unfortunate clerical error, León’s Song played out-of-competition. Had she been in the running, she probably would have taken home hardware; but even so, the film’s impact speaks for itself. Song Without a Name, or Canción Sin Nombre, is a heart-rending tale of child trafficking in Peru. An adaptation of real events investigated by León’s journalist father, Leon and co-writer Michael J. White’s script is its own form of journalism: a moving exploration of emotional memory.
Song also invites comparisons to Cuaron’s Roma. A mix of vérité and stylization, León’s impressive first feature is an achievement in ambience, a black-and-white time capsule both haunting and meditative. A careful eye for visual storytelling shows empathy for the human condition. Artful compositions denote the protagonists’ isolation; settings feel alien, yet strangely transformative; performances lend authenticity and palpable pain. Overall, Song is somber, even devastating … particularly because it suggests far more than it shows.
I sat down with León to discuss inspiration, restraint and what you don’t learn in film school—plus how indigenous storytellers fight for their rights and how to use art to get in touch with your roots.