May 30, 2018
Welcome back to Worldwide Wednesdays. Today’s film will be our third film from Spain, following in the footsteps of Episode #080 (“Verónica”), a demonic possession period piece, and Episode #101 (“Orbiter 9”), a near future science-fiction thriller. In fact, “Orbiter 9” also starred Belén Rueda as Silvia in a supporting role. Check out both episodes, and stick around for this one, to get a full range of films coming from Spain in the past few years.
Today’s movie is “Sara’s Notebook” (2018), the Spanish thriller written by Jorge Guerricaechevarría and directed by Norberto López Amado. The film follows Laura Alonso (Belén Rueda), a Madrid lawyer who travels to the Democratic Republic of the Congo via Uganda in search of her sister and medical doctor Sara (Marian Álvarez), based on a photo taken two years after she disappeared. Along the way she enlists the help of two very different men: Jamir (Iván Mendes), a Congolese native, and Sergio (Manolo Cardona), a suspicious aid worker with ulterior motives.
There’s a lot to like about this film, but also a few things that are almost ready-made for negative comments, mostly by creating the circumstances surrounding Laura’s journey to the DRC. It’s a pretty privileged journey at that, walking away from her law practice, selling off part of her wealth, and journeying to a region of the word where Spanish is not anyone’s first language unless they are a part of the UN. But once you get past *how* she arrives in those circumstances, you can enjoy Laura dealing *with* those circumstances, and the film begins to pick up. Even the contrived reasons and motivations for Laura to finish her journey, and the intended to be heart-breaking ending don’t take away from this core journey.
“Sara’s Notebook” isn’t just about Laura’s sister, however, but also a dramatic overview of the very real situation in the DRC. Laura’s journey allows us to peek into all sides of the conflict, from the surrounding countries, to the affected communities, within the United Nations compound and straight into the heart of a rebel camp and the barbaric practices of rearing child soldiers. Her two guides, in different ways, give their own perspectives on the situation as well, even as we primarily join Laura as the viewer in her quest of discovery. Ultimately, we can appreciate the comparison between Laura, who is only beginning to understand the situation in the DRC, and Sara, who has discarded her privilege to continue helping those within the chaos, taking simple notions and complicating them exponentially.
Norberto López Amado’s direction is great, making the war-time shots feel chaotic and unexpected, and moving the rest of the story along despite its flaws. The scenes in Kampala were well chosen, along with the costumes and effects. The rest of the cast is pretty great, with a huge nod to Iván Mendes as Jamir, doing a great job with a subdued performance, especially given his past. The film might feel long with a two hour running time, but only in a few scenes, and the final act moves quite quickly.
“Sara’s Notebook” (2018) is a decent political thriller with some script flaws, overcome by a great cast and good direction. While not intended to be an authoritative look at child soldiers in the DRC, it does provide both new and old perspectives on the situation in an engaging manner. Fans of political thrillers or those curious about just how bad it is in the DRC should definitely check out this film, but be advised that there are plenty of trigger warnings for violence, child abuse, and sexual assault.
Rotten Tomatoes: NR
One Movie Punch: 7.0/10
“Sara’s Notebook” (2018) is rated TV-MA and is currently streaming on Netflix.