★★★★☆

Colombian filmmaker Franco Lolli directs his second feature with astonishing confidence, crafting a tender family drama that captures the exhausting bitter-sweetness and competing priorities of family life in middle-age. Centred on a naturalistic, deeply empathetic turn from Carolina Sanin, Litigante transforms the banal into the elegiac.

The first scene finds an elderly woman being examined in a CAT-scanner. Bathed in blue light, the percussive noise of the scanner is almost musical. The noise proves an apt metaphor for the rhythms of the film: noisy, mechanical, but weirdly comforting in its predictable grinding.

In the midst of this grind is Silvia (Sanin); the woman in the CAT-scanner is her mother, Leticia (the director’s own mother, Leticia Gómez), suffering from lung cancer. As Silvia cares for her mother at home, at work she is embroiled in a corruption scandal caused by her arrogant, absent boss in the public sector in spite of her repeated legal advice to resolve the situation. Meanwhile, as a single mother she is solely responsible for raising her young son, Antonio (Antonio Martinez).

Her daily trials are many but Silvia’s mother is surely her most formidable routine obstacle. Leticia’s intransigent grouchiness is as head-thumpingly frustrating as it is familiar. But her refusal of chemotherapy treatment – which could safe her life but make her remaining time unbearable – is also poignant and heart-breaking. We see Leticia through Silvia’s eyes: stubborn and ignorant, just as loved ones often can be. Their constant bickering feels petty in the face of mortality, but speaks to two lifetimes’ worth of combined grief and tenderness, a catalogue of minor moments that are far more than the sum of their parts.

Silvia’s burgeoning relationship with radio journalist, Abel (Vladimir Durán), provides a bridge between her professional and private lives – they meet when he roughly interviews her about the corruption scandal – adding yet another strain to her relationship with her mother. There’s no great romance here: Abel is appealing and loyal but as flawed as Silvia. But with every problem his presence inserts into her life, so too does he provides vectors for love and tenderness; with each new character the film introduces, those vectors increasingly intersect, sometimes causing tensions. Simplicity is easier but it is also colder: complexity is unpredictable and can be hard but in the end it is kinder.

Keeping the camera close to his subjects under naturalistic light, cinematographer Luis Armando Arteaga evokes Litigante’s quotidian relationships without ever making them feel mundane. Two sequences in particular, one in a rowdy swimming pool and later, one on a quiet evening in Letitia’s house, capture the frailty and preciousness of special moments that feel, superficially, banal. Arteaga’s camera here never feels like it’s intruding, but is intimate all the same. So many filmmakers conceptualise their visuals either voyeuristically or as active participants in the drama, but here we are simply with our subjects in the moment. It’s a quiet trick, easily missed, but a special one all the same.

Franco Lolli’s Litigante is available to stream on Curzon Home Cinema from 10 July.

Christopher Machell | @MachellFilm