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'Perfume de Gardenias,' a Colombian-Puerto Rican production, tells a story that invites real reflection on loss, pain, empathy and solidarity among women dedicated to caring for their families. Photo: Courtesy.
'Perfume de Gardenias,' a Colombian-Puerto Rican production, tells a story that invites real reflection on loss, pain, empathy and solidarity among women dedicated to caring for their families. Photo: Courtesy.

Let death ‘come out of the closet’

'Perfume de Gardenias' is a Colombian-Puerto Rican film that captures death from a reflective, critical and comedic point of view.

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“The only disadvantage with death is that we don’t know when it’s going to happen.” So why is it so hard for human beings to be aware that death is the only sure thing in our entire existence?

Puerto Rican filmmaker Gisela Rosario Ramos, better known in the art world as Macha Colón, has asked herself this question more than once and wanted to explore the answer through a fresh, direct and transparent artistic narrative. It's a narrative that, after years of work, has reached the big screen as a debut film called Perfume de Gardenias.

“I wanted to tell the story from my point of view, how I see it. It seemed to me that this was an honest, authentic way, and for me it was a great exercise and a big step as filmmaker,” said Colón in an interview with AL DÍA from her house in Puerto Rico. The idea was born in 2009, and by the end of 2012, the script was almost complete.

Perfume de Gardenias tells the story of Isabel, a character played by Luz María Rondón. She is a woman absolutely devoted to the care of her sick husband. Widowed shortly after, her life falls apart and the hours, once imperceptible, now seem inexhaustible. Aware of her idle time and motivated by her enthusiastic neighbor Toña, Isabel agrees to organize the funeral of a carpenter from her community. Unknowingly, chance or fate itself had prepared for her a new stage that would boost her creativity in an environment that required infinite empathy and solidarity.

“Being poor and with few resources, great creativity is required to make a wooden box look less simple. Isabel uses elements from the carpentry workshop, from sawdust to saws and working tools placed on top of the box. Not everyone appreciates Isabel’s unconventional style, but she continues to be cheered on by Toña,” reads the synopsis of the film that first premiered at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival in New York. 

The movie, named after a well-known bolero that recreates a time, an atmosphere, and complicity between women, is a Colombian-Puerto Rican production.

The feature film is classified as “dark comedy,” which brings more than a smile to the Puerto Rican director’s face when she recalls the whole creative process for her first feature film.

“The topic — death — scared people. People said: 'The audience won’t understand that it’s funny. How can you say that? This is a comedy!'” said the director. “We propose to come out of the closet with this topic. The Caribbean experience is a very hard experience about loss and it’s not something that is talked about all the time.”

Preparing for death

It is not easy to talk about the end of life in Latin American culture without hurting feelings, rubbing salt in the wound or receiving malicious looks.

Nor is it easy to weigh an imminent death, remember the scent of a gardenia ever-present at a funeral, or understand, at the same time, that the flower in this ephemeral, earthly walk is a symbol of pure love.

Nothing is easy when death encloses life, but Macha — with her extensive experience working on short films and her artistic sensitivity — and her technically-creative team composed mostly of women and cast, have inspired Puerto Rican, Latin American, American and European audiences in theaters to reflect on society's obsession with eternal youth and its fear of death.

They have done so well that Perfume de Gardenias won the award for Best Narrative Feature at the 2021 Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival.

After its commercial premiere, the production continues to be presented in festivals in the United States and Europe in 2022, and Colón was recently able to participate in seminars to understand, firsthand, the audience’s perception of the film’s legacy.

As she processes all the success of her debut feature, Colón looks to the horizon and sees that the near future holds two documentary projects for her. Although she still prefers to slow down, sigh and take a temporary break from the music. This multifaceted Boricua exudes optimism when talking about her new challenges because she knows that “sometimes something has to die so that something else can flourish.”

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