If there's one thing that characterizes Melina, it's passion and freedom. So, when her mother told her about the call her father(a former journalist for La República ) received from a French girl who thanked him for his articles, because thanks to them she was able to find out about her early childhood, she knew she had a story to tell.
"My father received a call from a French girl who thanked him because his articles helped her reconstruct her very early childhood, because she thought she had been given up for adoption, but when she came to Lima to meet her biological mother, she learned of the tragedy.
But what tragedy is Melania talking about? This is the child trafficking that took place in the 1980s, a time when our country was passing through a difficult period. "My father researched a lot of cases and in fact I met another lady who had been through a tragic situation –her children, now grown-up, had been stolen from her– that was devastating, even more tragic because they had had a lot of problems. Those were the cases I learnt about personally".
With this premise in mind, Melina began writing a script, which after ten years would become Canción sin nombre ("Song without a name"), her first feature film that premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, in the Directors' Fortnight, a section that takes place in parallel and has made León the first Peruvian director to participate in this renowned festival.
"We talked to the team about the fact that we were the fifth Peruvian film to attend, but the truth is that I hadn't considered that I was the first woman in that whole group. It's an honor, it makes me very happy that the press has drawn attention to that aspect and I think it's an opportunity to look to the future and for new filmmakers to flourish", said León, who studied film at Columbia University in the United States.
Set in the 80's, Canción sin nombre tells the story of Georgina Condori, an Andean woman whose newborn baby mysteriously disappears after she gives birth in a fake clinic. In the midst of despair, she meets Pedro Campos, a young journalist from Lima who takes charge of the investigation and takes on the desperate search alongside her. All this brings to light a subject that was increasingly present at the time: child trafficking.
How did you come up with the name?
It came from the fact that we didn't like the name we had which was Canción de cuna ("Song of the Cradle") and while we were searching, my co-writer and friend, Michael J. White, came up with it and I loved it because it mixes the tenderness of music with the thing that has no name, violence.
How long did the production take?
Production began in 2014, thanks to the fact that we received funding from the Ministry of Culture. It went from being a dream, a script that no one would read because people don't read scripts, to a reality. Between pre-production and production, it took about 5 years, but the script began 10 years ago, as an idea.
Actors who aren't actors
For the casting process, Melina was very clear about one thing: "I didn't want to hire actors because they were famous just to get box office results". She looks for truth in the characters.
"I was looking for actors who aren't actors. It's very boring to have a text, learn it and then act it out. Our text was not so perfect and, in any case, I didn't care if it wasn't because I felt I could do it. If the actor in front of me could give me the lines from their heart, I didn't mind if they changed them. And it's not that difficult, it's just that people are afraid to throw themselves into the unknown".
How did you work on the subject of locations?
The locations came from the script, the one in Iquitos, for example, that was also Michael's idea. Another was Villa El Salvador because it is a very traditional district which is very artistic and has undergone significant growth. We were going to film there, but we had to change that as it was impossible to reconstruct the 80's there. Then it was good old Dante Castro, a guy who has a lot of experience as a location producer, who took us to Pachacutec, Ventanilla, a new, young town.
How do you hope the film will make viewers feel?
I just hope they are as thrilled as we were during filming. And that they identify with the Andean and mestizo identity, and that they are moved when they see it. Whether the Peruvian public likes it or not, I think they will at least be able to recognize the freedom of its creators.
For Melina, freedom is something we must always be aware of, in everything we do. "In every aspect of life you have to seek freedom, you have to seek it yourself. I see a lot of people who self-censor themselves, who have already put up barriers before anyone says anything to them. Freedom has to be in everything you do, and I think that's something this film has to offer".
The Cannes Film Festival will take place from May 14 to 25. Canción sin nombre will be screened three times during the festival as part of La Quinzaine, which brings together 24 films this year and, although it is not a competitive section, independent prizes can be awarded.
After this, Melina plans to make two documentaries in Peru. "I still have to get permission from the main characters so I can’t say what it is going to be about, although for one of them I can, which I hope will be made soon. This will tell the story of elderly transsexuals", the filmmaker said.