By: Amanda Guarragi
Under the Heavens explores the current socio political climate in Venezuela, while highlighting a very intimate story about motherhood. Director Gustavo Milan, wanted to raise awareness for the Venezuelan people, who were forced to flee the country in search for a better life. The second part of this story is quite personal for Milan because it was something that had happened within his family. The film is about a young Venezuelan mother, Marta (Samantha Castillo), who was immigrating to Brazil, and on her way, she meets a struggling young couple with a baby girl. Her ability to breastfeed causes their fates to become forever entwined.
The film begins with Marta on the side of the road, waiting for someone to stop, in order to help her get to her destination. Eventually, she meets this young couple who are also heading in the same direction. The driver of this truck, asks for payment, for all three of them, and Marta offers to cover the cost. Right from the start, we see that Marta is generous, selfless, and always attempts to do the right thing. This couple and their baby girl, have a very odd dynamic when they are first introduced. The wife and child are completely detached from the husband. You could feel that something was not right between them. Gustavo Milan’s direction details the exterior world scale in Venezuela and the small, intimate moments between these characters.
Milan balances the importance of the the two stories effortlessly, but mainly puts the focus on the baby and the two women. Milan wanted to tell this story because it has always been at the back of his mind,
“It’s related to something that happened in my family. I wasn’t born. My mother made a choice of nursing my cousin because my aunt didn’t have milk and she became almost like a second mother to my cousin. They are very attached to each other and my mom is also very attached to my cousin.”– Director Gustavo Milan, ‘Under the Heavens’
He learned a lot about that when he was a child, it made such an impact on him and it blurred the boundaries of motherhood for him. He never knew how to talk about it, but he knew that it was important enough to bring it to the screen one day. The idea to blend these two stories together, officially came to him, when he saw an image of a woman in the newspaper, “She was walking along the shoulder of the road, that connects Brazil to Venezuela, and she had a baby in her arms. And for some reason, I didn’t think it was her son or daughter.” He ended up writing the first draft of the script that exact day.
The reason why this short film makes an impact is because of the way Milan leaves many situations up to interpretation. He shows just enough to get his audience interested in these characters and then he leaves it open-ended. The viewer gets to create a backstory for these characters because of the choices they make in this film. Milan wanted to show his audience the hardships Venezuelans have had to go through. More importantly, he shows what women have to endure, and their resilience in getting what they want. The relationship between the two women, Marta and Alice (Brenda Moreno) is interesting to watch because they both approach motherhood differently, and there is no judgement, which is refreshing.
The relationship between Marta and Alice slowly builds, as Alice places her trust in Marta. Not only with taking care of her child, but with helping her get out of her abusive relationship with her partner. It’s almost as if there was an unspoken understanding between the both of them. The gravity of their relationship is truly felt at the end of this film. The way Milan ended this film, shows how much he values his audience and their ability to connect the dots on their own. The last scene has Marta and Alice on a boat. There is a moment where Alice, who is the real mother of the baby, has to hand the baby over to Marta. Milan said that Brenda Moreno was so connected to this story, and to her character, that it was even difficult for her to let go of the child.
Milan went on to say that the ending of this film was decided during the editing process of the movie,
“I actually shot Alice leaving the boat, and stepping off the boat, and actually walking away. So I guess I shot for clarity. I knew that would be a difficult moment to add it. Then, when I was editing, it’s just one of those situations where less is more you don’t have to show everything to the audience. When she learns, you learn.”– Director Gustavo Milan, ‘Under the Heavens’
Having the film end the way it did, leaves the viewer wondering what Alice was trying to get away from. She managed to get away from her abusive relationship, but why did she give up her child? What does this mean for Marta? Who has now taken on the role of being the sole guardian of this child. What else was she getting away from? There are so many questions, but then your heart connects with both women. Maybe the way their babies came into their lives, were not by choice, and they did not know what to do. The idea of motherhood is very complex. There can be maternal figures that have a better relationship with some children than their actual mothers. There is always a bond that can be formed based on the emotional and spiritual connectivity between a child and a maternal figure.
There is no right way to be a mother, or to even go through motherhood. Milan is able to show the complexities of this, through the budding relationship between Alice and Marta. Under the Heavens is a short film that will start an important conversation about the political state of Venezuela, and the importance of helping out your fellow woman. It is very personal, emotional, and Gustavo Milan combines both stories, in an impactful way. Milan is a gifted storyteller and you can tell that this film came from a very personal place.