“I wanted to show the vulnerability of the teenagers in such harsh conditions”

Leidi, by Simón Mesa Soto, has won the Palme d’Or for the Best Short Film at Cannes this year. Having been a Colombian student at the London Film School, Mesa Soto came back to his native country to shoot his graduation work, Leidi, the portrait of a teenage mother who hasn’t seen Alexis, the father of her baby, for a few days. As he doesn’t answer her calls, she decides to go out to search for him.

The film shows us a few hours of Leidi’s life: the wait on the balcony; the search for Alexis in the streets, at his home and on the football pitch (always holding her baby); the conversations with his friends, which result in the unpleasant proof that he spends time with another girl. Finally, Leidi finds Alexis at the bus depot where he works. Leidi, Alexis and their baby spend some tender moments together, as a family. But Alexis is too busy, he has others priorities, or he’s just not ready to be a father. He promises he’ll visit them, maybe…

The story of Leidi seems to be a common one. Many young and pregnant girls appear in the film, to stress the normality – and the seriousness – of the phenomenon. They are 15 or 16 years old, and they stay at home with their mothers and sisters, while the fathers are not there – perhaps they are working, or perhaps not. The men seem less mature, more vulnerable, and definitely Don Juan-like (even when near the pregnant girlfriend). Beyond these particular stories, there are generalised problems, such as the lack of education and job prospects. Social problems remain in the background, and are not explicitly evoked by the filmmaker. There are no accusations; only a picture of reality as it is – bitter and challenging. Mesa Soto explains the intentions behind his film to Cineuropa. 

Cineuropa: Are you denouncing the phenomenon of teenage mothers, or is there something more behind Leidi?

Simón Mesa Soto:
I come from Medellín, the city where the film was shot, and the situation of young people in my country has always interested me. These young and pregnant girls just symbolise all the problems Colombia has. I am not making a judgement with this film; I only want to show these people, to tell their story. It’s more than pregnancy; I wanted to show the vulnerability of the teenagers in such harsh conditions. My question is: how would a woman like Leidi know how to educate her child? And what about in ten years? This is normal, it’s everyday life in Medellín, and if you go there, you will see many young girls with babies up on the balconies, waiting. Through her story, you could suggest that she’s only the result of many other issues, and that’s why I didn’t want to be specific and tackle it as a social or political problem.

How did you find the girl who plays Leidi?

First of all, I had to find a place, so I visited several neighbourhoods in Medellín. When I found the right place, I started getting to know the people living there. I got the authorisation to take part in some meetings, organised by the municipality of Medellín to help young mothers. I talked to many of these girls, I heard their stories, and during these meetings I met Alejandra, who plays Leidi in the film. She was very shy, but at the same time, the way she moved in front of the camera was very interesting to me. She’s not an actress; she is a real mother, and her story is very similar to Leidi’s. Her child at that time was one year old, and it would have been too difficult to shoot a film with him. So, for practical reasons, we used another baby, who was only three months old during the shooting.

This is a co-production between the UK and Colombia. Where is the rest of the crew based? 

This is my graduation work from the London Film School. The school funded the film, and I got some funding in Colombia, too. The rest of the crew is based in Colombia. There was an amazing harmony; we really enjoyed the shoot, and I hope we will stay like this.  

30 May 2014, by Fran Royo