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‘Reinas’ Review: An Understated Portrait of a Peruvian Family Navigating Political Turmoil

Klaudia Reynicke’s compact feature Reinas deals in intimate moments with an understated charm.

The film, which premiered in the World Cinema Dramatic competition at Sundance, takes place in Lima during a tumultuous summer in 1992 and chronicles an unsteady reunion between a father and his two daughters. It’s a quiet study of paternal redemption, much like In the Summers, another one of this year’s festival offerings. Here, as in Alessandra Lacorazza’s debut, the complexities of a seemingly simple relationship reveal themselves over the course of slow summer days. Reynicke (Love Me Tender, Il Nido) shapes a moving character study of a family trying to ground itself against the backdrop of a shaky political landscape.

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An excerpted television news report from the ’90s functions as a prologue, detailing a country in crisis. Peru’s minister of the economy announces that in the next 24 hours, the price of milk will jump from 120,000 Peruvian intis to 330,000, and the cost of sugar, now 150,000 intis, will double. In the middle of this throttled economy, Carlos (Gonzalo Molina) drives his taxi around the city.

When we meet the puerile father of Lucia (Abril Gjurinovic) and Aurora (Luana Vega), he is in the middle of a conversation about his dormant acting career with a half-interested passenger. The patron with the waning curiosity asks Carlos if he works in television or film. Carlos says he is a theater actor and then proceeds to list a few film roles. That this story — along with many others — doesn’t track isn’t clear until later. Reinas is about how Carlos reunites with his daughters just as the siblings prepare to leave Lima with their mother, Elena (Jimena Lindo). But it’s also about the stories a father tells himself and his children to construct a different self-image.

The Carlos that Aurora and Lucia, two mild-mannered girls, know is unreliable. At the start of Reinas, Carlos arrives late to eldest Aurora’s 18th birthday party. He barges in with a mouth full of lies — excuses for his tardiness that land like apologies for his general absence. When asked by the youngest, Lucia, about his whereabouts, Carlos, without missing a beat, says he’s been in the jungle fighting crocodiles. The girls can only muster disbelieving looks. Later at the party, when Carlos regales attendees with a harrowing story of near death and a car bomb, the audience has been primed to react the same way.

As Carlos spends more time with his girls, the illusion of who he wants to be is replaced with the reality of who he is. Reynicke shapes a portrait of a man making an effort. Some of the strongest and most charming moments in Reinas take place around two beach trips Carlos informally organizes at the behest of Lucia and Aurora. In these moments, he assumes the caretaking role he once abandoned. The beach excursions are imbued with hope and possibility. They take on a dreamy quality with ethereal choral music playing over scenes of Carlos teaching Lucia how to ride a wave or bartering with roadside hawkers to get the girls lunch or new swimsuits.

As played by Molina, Carlos is a figure who bets on his casual charm to mask his noncommittal nature and penchant for dishonesty. But as the character renews his commitment to his daughters, we can see him trying to fight this reflex and act more authentically. Molina teases out this shift, which helps mask lingering questions about Carlos’ employment, his position on the Peruvian political spectrum and the history between him and Elena.

Outside of the bubble that Carlos and Elena have created for their daughters, Lima roils. The city no longer feels safe and Reynicke offers a visceral portrayal of the political reality through unfussy scenes of daily life — conversations about the strict curfews, which manufacture fear; the scarcity of basic goods; and the challenge Elena faces when exchanging intis for U.S. dollars are among a few examples.

Elena, played with understated force by Lindo, doesn’t want to raise her children in this environment. She invites Carlos back into their lives in part because she needs him to sign their daughters’ travel papers. As Carlos forges new bonds with Lucia and Aurora and subtly tries to sabotage the plan, we see Elena run around Lima preparing for their upcoming trip.

In Reinas, Reynicke offers a quietly sad portrait of an unexpected effort to make a family feel whole. Realizing that he might never see his daughters again, a reinvigorated Carlos recommits to them with quality time and tokens of affection. Even the way he refers to them — his preferred term of endearment is “reinas” — changes, feeling more weighted and sincere.

Reynicke also dedicates screen time to depicting Lucia and Aurora’s relationship. Lucia remains adamant about going wherever her mother goes, but Aurora has her own priorities in Lima. The scenes of the sisters negotiating their own impending departure are steeped in fine-tuned devastation. By the end of Reinas, we start to see that it’s not only Carlos who needs to believe in a different reality.

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