IDFA Review: In a Whisper

IDFA Review: In a Whisper

‘All I can look for is an image. An image where you can find me,’ is a sentiment expressed in the opening scene of In a Whisper, and states what this documentary, and the lives of its makers, is about. Through images Heidi Hassan and Patricia Pérez Fernández try to find both each other and themselves, along the way creating a moving and sincere document about friendship, love, motherhood and migration.

Heidi and Patricia have been friends since childhood, growing up in Cuba. Both of them developed a profound love of filmmaking, working together as friends and colleagues on creating meaningful art. But their friendship ends when Patricia decides not to return to Cuba, following a trip to Europe. It meant she couldn’t return to her home country and her best friend. Subsequently, Heidi felt betrayed and lost.

Decades later, they try to find each other again, communicating through video letters. They start from the present, both obviously not living in Cuba anymore, talking about the pain their separation has caused them. From then on, the movie traces their friendship and lives from where it started – the swimming pool where they both trained. 

As obsessively engaged film makers, they collected an incredible amount of footage from their time in Cuba when they were young, full of energy, hopes, dreams and ambitions. It shows their love of each other and the camera, and also the first cracks in their trust of the future.

The video letters are edited into a chronological story, interspersed with their personal archive material, which shows a warm, happy, carefree past, until the realisation of the prison they are actually living in, kicks in. Their separate lives unfold, through their voices as well as footage of their daily activities which they kept recording – the one thing that remains a constant.

Without any reservation, but also with recourse to sentiment, they share their feelings – what it is like to be an illegal immigrant in a free world. What it is like to re-invent yourself when the culture you grew up in isn’t available to you anymore. What it is like to desperately want children, and not able to have them.

The pair have managed to create much more than a poetic, beautifully and artfully crafted personal exchange of views and emotions. The film is about the difference between ideological systems, the importance of belonging, the need for love and recognition, the struggle of being a woman in a male dominated society, to be it in communist Cuba or the democratic West, and about the value of friendship.

It oozes melancholy, but at the same time is a testimony of the strength and resilience of these two women, who have chosen to be free and have suffered the consequences without feeling sorry for themselves. It touches the heart and sharpens the mind, leaving you with answers as well as questions: would you be brave enough?