It's hard not to love the titular character in this doc about a young artist thriving in difficult circumstances.
DIRECTED BY SEAN FINE and ANDREA NIX FINE (USA, International Spectrum)
Sunday, April 29, 7 p.m.
Monday, April 30, 6:30 p.m.
TIFF Bell Lightbox (350 King Street West)
Friday, May 4, 11 a.m.
ROM Theatre (100 Bloor Street West)
In her brightly coloured make-up and paint-spattered Chuck Taylors, Inocente looks like a normal American teenager, save perhaps for a somewhat left-field sense of personal style.
In reality, Inocente—the main subject of a documentary of the same name—has been through more trauma than most people many times her age. Although she’s spent most of her life in her hometown of San Diego, she’s an undocumented immigrant, having crossed illegally from Mexico with her parents as a young child. She’s also survived brutal abuse at the hands of her father, talked her mother out of a murder-suicide, and spent nine of her 15 years homeless, moving between shelters, cheap apartments, and the streets with her mother and younger brothers.
Inocente manages to escape the darkness of her life by immersing herself in a world of colour. A gifted artist, she creates eye-poppingly bright, almost cartoon-like paintings, encouraged by her mentors at a local art-focused youth centre. Inocente is set against the backdrop of the lead-up to her first art show. As the centre’s star pupil, she’s been given a solo show of the kind coveted by artists with much more experience. Unfortunately, her preparations for the show coincide with her already-strained relationship with her mother taking a turn for the worse.
Directors Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine manage to do a good job of staying out of the way, which lets the audience bond with Inocente. The first-person narration and close-up interviews make you feel like she’s telling her own story. Where the directors’ hands are felt is in the look of the film, in which Inocente’s colourful art is constantly juxtaposed with her physical environment, which varies from drab to downright grim.
Inocente is scheduled to air on MTV in the summer, and while the subject matter is much, much more serious than anything else on that channel, the film still has a bit of an MTV feel. Fast-motion musical montages and are used to keep things moving at a quick pace and title cards written in Inocente’s hand help divide the story.
Both heartbreaking and uplifting, Inocente isn’t the story of a girl who is trying to make something of herself in spite of her tough circumstances. It’s the story of a girl who is already a thoroughly impressive human being and artist, whether she realizes it or not.