TIFF 2022: Canadian film 'So Much Tenderness' expands the stereotypical images of immigrants

Noëlle Schönwald and Natalia Aranguren in "So Much Tenderness" (Courtesy of TIFF) (1996-98 AccuSoft Inc., All rights reserved)

An immigrant experience, specifically to Toronto from Colombia, is explored from the traumatic journey of fleeing across the border, to the reality of settling in a new place, in the film So Much Tenderness from Lina Rodríguez, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).

The film follows Aurora (Noëlle Schönwald) who, after her husband was killed under suspicious circumstances, crosses into Canada in the trunk of a couple’s car. We then see her a few years later, living in Toronto with her daughter Lucía (Natalia Aranguren), with the pair navigating their relationship as independent women, not just mother and daughter. While it may seem as though Aurora has left her past in Colombia behind, something pulls her back.

While Rodríguez has made movies in set Colombia, this is her first fiction film set in Canada.

“It actually came from a question that my father in law asked me and he said, ‘how come you don't make films in Canada, and you're Canadian?’” Rodríguez told Yahoo Canada. “People say that when you leave your home, you never quite end up arriving to the new place,’re in this kind of limbo.”

I just didn't feel Canadian enough to make a Canadian film, so I think this was the film that [I] started just trying to think about that in betweenness of being here and there, but also, as a Colombian, we just have this very deep sort of wound from a history of violence that goes many, many decades… Being haunted by a violent past, was something that I wanted to explore.Lina Rodríguez, Director So Much Tenderness

L to R: Director Lina Rodríguez with actor Noëlle Schönwald on the set of SO MUCH TENDERNESS (Photo by Jeffrey Chiu)
L to R: Director Lina Rodríguez with actor Noëlle Schönwald on the set of SO MUCH TENDERNESS (Photo by Jeffrey Chiu)

'An intense and scary, and dangerous, way of crossing'

With the initial scenes of Aurora crossing the border, the filmmaker had a very specific way she wanted to showcase that journey.

“There's a trope to the border crossing,...we have seen so many films about the different circumstances through which people have to cross the border, so I really wanted to start the film in this way to tackle that,” Lina Rodríguez said. “I have a friend who crossed this way and when we started talking about that, it just felt that it was such an intense and scary, and dangerous, way of crossing.”

“I wanted to subvert the sort of typical structure that after [the crossing], you would see the person struggling, learning [a new] language and doing various jobs, which I did here and I've done in other places, where you either do cleaning or bartending or whatever you have to do. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but I wanted to kind of skip that to think about her and her daughter later, and how they're trying to settle.”

Another component of the story that Rodríguez really wanted to focus on was the Aurora’s evolving relationship with her daughter.

“After I left Colombia, I feel like I've become more interested in getting to know my mother as a woman,” Rodríguez said.

“As soon as something happens in my life, my mom would mother me no matter what… I've been really interested in thinking about the different ways that women embody these roles, how are you someone's mother, how are you someone's daughter, but also sometimes in life, you get a glimpse of each other as a woman… I felt like the parallel sort of story, the parallel sequences of the mother and daughter doing their own thing, was just a way to give them space as women outside of the mother-daughter roles.”

In order to really establish that authentic mother-daughter relationship, Rodríguez actually took some scenes out of Noëlle Schönwald’s script so she wouldn’t know what was happening in the private life of her character's daughter.

“You don't tell everything to your mom or to your daughter,” the filmmaker explained.

Director Lina Rodriguez of SO MUCH TENDERNESS (Photo by Calvin Thomas)
Director Lina Rodriguez of SO MUCH TENDERNESS, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, TIFF (Photo by Calvin Thomas)

'We can make our own decisions and have our own desires'

When asked what message she hopes the audience takes from So Much Tenderness, Rodríguez hopes it expands the images we have about what immigrants look like.

“I think there's still an image of what it is to be an immigrant, that has very much to do with the education that people have received from the stereotypes on TV and cinema, where it's people who cross the border in a certain way,...they end up being these kinds of people, and it’s always either around…drugs…or hyper sexualized women,” Lina Rodríguez said.

“Hopefully [it inspires] other filmmakers to imagine that, as women, we have desires, we are not only mothers, we're not only daughters, we're always kind of navigating multiple expectations of how to be but we can make our own decisions and have our own desires.