MARLÉN VIÑAYO, “UNFORGIVABLE”
WINNER: 2021 JURY AWARD – BEST SHORT
2020, El Salvador, 36 mins.
Filmmaker Marlén Viñayo accepts the SDFF 2021 Jury Award for Best Short for Unforgivable, in which a ruthless hitman for the 18th Street gang serves his sentence in a Salvadoran evangelical prison, where he is guilty not only of his crimes, but of being gay.
This exquisitely beautiful film immerses us into a world shaped by extreme poverty, intolerance and brutality. We are in an over-crowded prison in El Salvador, ‘one of the most violent places on Earth.’ Young gang members, heavily tattooed, are crammed into tiny concrete boxes. We (somehow) are inside one cell with four inmates. One young man, Geovany, is carefully sewing by hand while a cellmate is mixing water into powder to make a shared meal. It becomes a game between friends, teasingly offering a spoonful of food to another then zooming it away when lips open. Back and forth with gentle affection the food is shared by all. During this play, we hear Geovany describe how he attacked and killed enemy gang members as part of his gang’s assassin team—when he was 12 years old. ‘It is sport. It is easy. It is easier to kill a man, than to love a man.’ The camera moves to a larger room with many men in net hammocks above us, swaying in fetal positions. The four men we get to know are isolated from all these others because their ‘flaw’ is greater than any gang behavior of murder or rape. They would be killed by the newly evangelical Christian inmates of the prison and they would be killed by gang leaders if they were released. Because they are gay.
The film continues to reveal unimaginable horror of circumstances and beauty of souls intertwined. What opposites are carried in human beings. Director Marlen Viñayo does not try to blunt or resolve these contradictions. She shows this hopeless, unforgiving world with a ruthless compassion and artistic brilliance that reveals human goodness amidst the unremitting poverty, injustice, brutality. Unforgivable shows the unquenchbility of connection even in the darkest places.