The Rose Seller (Colombia, 1998)

Here we have the first South American film on the list! Based on “The Little Match Girl” by Hans Christian Andersen, this film by Victor Gaviria depicts the street life of Colombian children.

Visions of Christmas Past

It’s Christmastime in Medellín. Thirteen-year-old Mónica makes a living selling roses on the street and in nightclubs; her less-than-faithful boyfriend Anderson sells drugs. Mónica meets a ten-year-old girl, Andrea, who has run away from her abusive mother. With Mónica’s coaching Andrea calls her mother on a payphone and tells her: “Tomorrow I’m gonna pick up my clothes and I’m gonna go and take a break from you and that other idiot. Get lost you motherfucker ass face! Goodbye bitch!” When Andrea briefly returns, her mother threatens to beat her again. A neighbor overhears and cautions Andrea’s mother to treat her daughter better, lest she leave for good and end up falling in with the wrong crowd on the streets: “She’s better off at home.”

Back on the streets, a police officer witnesses Anderson huffing glue and tells him: “Smoke all the grass you want, but lay off this shit. What the hell are you thinking?” He throws the bottle on the ground and lights the spillage on fire. “That’s what will happen to you.” Indeed, glue wreaks its havoc on Monica’s brain. She begins hallucinating, seeing her dead grandmother dressed as the Virgin Mary and pleads with the vision: “You came for me? You won’t leave again! Why did you leave, why didn’t you take me with you?” Monica returns home to discover that her house was almost torn down, and her grandmother’s room was demolished, though the contents are still there. She goes through her grandmother’s trunk with her sister Bibiana, who offers to let her stay there for Christmas. In the old photos, Monica looks so happy; it’s heartbreaking to compare that face to the one we see now. We witness a flashback to a clean, sober, and smiling Mónica drinking agua de panela with her grandmother.

Crafting Joy Amidst Hardship

Meanwhile, romance blossoms between two of Mónica’s friends, Cheeky and Claudia. Cheeky’s father shows up to take her home, but she refuses to go with him. After they have a private talk, she finally agrees—though it isn’t stated why. Claudia is devastated: “Just remember that if you’re gone too long I’ll give your spot to someone else.” Cheeky implores: “No, wait one week. If my dad beats me, I’ll come back here to you.”

Mónica buys 20 thousand worth of fireworks for Christmas Eve using the money she and Andrea have earned from selling roses and such. That evening, Mónica and a very stoned Claudia (“Where did all that blood come from?” she asks deliriously) light up the fireworks in an alley. However, Mónica saves a few sparklers; she returns to the remains of her grandmother’s home and huffs glue from a bag while she lights a sparkler. She imagines herself in the house as it used to be, on Christmas Eve, surrounded by her grandmother and extended family. Entranced by her visions, she loses sight of the terror and violence around her, with dreadful results.

The film emphasizes, with unflinching realism, how children grow up fast on the streets of Medellín. My advice for prospective viewers of this film: like Mónica and her fellow street children, cling onto every joyous moment in the film, because such moments are few and far between.

Up Next…

Beats of the Antonov (Sudan, 2014)

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