Review: Unmasking a Difficult Truth—Ana Murugarren’s “Three Lies”

Spanish director Ana Murugarren’s feature film, Three Lies delves into the dark circumstances of outcast, single mothers forced to sell their children in a human trafficking scheme during the final years of Francisco Franco’s dictatorship in 1970s Bilbao.

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Murugarren’s film, starring Nora Navas as fearless tattoo artist Violeta, frames the true-to-life story of Violeta’s search to find her biological mother and her discovery that not only was she adopted, but sold. Violeta sets out to find out the truth and punish by law those responsible for the abominations suffered by her birth mother.

Weaved with red herrings and nervous witnesses, Violeta’s personal investigations alongside the (at first reluctant) police uncovers a paper trail of corruption, money, the church, and big-name local politicians – all of which complicates her poignant desire to finally reunite with her real mother.

The drama-thriller unfolds non-linearly, jumping between past and present. In flashbacks, the three teens pent up at El Consuelo—a so-called safe-haven for shunned soon-to-be young mothers—become unlikely friends.

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The Bilbao refuge, single-handedly run by Catholic nun Sister Inés, feels more like a prison for the young pregnant girls: Inma, a sheltered fourteen year old impregnated by a married, well-connected family friend; Karmele, a meek young woman whose husband is abusive; and the rebellious Lucia, who, when questioned about her baby’s father, blows out cigarette smoke and rolls her eyes: “I didn’t even come.”

The opening flashback to 1970s Bilbao illustrates the three young pregnant women bravely coping with the daily minutiae of society’s judging gaze, maliciously reinforced by Sister Inés.

Lucia emerges as the sly, daring leader of the three, playing her cards right with Sister Inés, whom the latter entrusts do-what-I-want street-smart types like Lucia the responsibility of executing her prerogative: to sell the children, no strings attached. The film’s noirish music crafted by Sergio López-Eraña keeps us in suspense.

Jumping to present day, the gloomy interiors of the Bilbao shelter give way to the colorfully gritty tattoo shop where Rosie-the-Riveter-esque Violeta puffs on a cigarette before meeting Angel, a stern but warmhearted police officer from the Missing Persons Unit. “He loves to play bad cop,” Angel’s relaxed police partner, Andoni, tells Violeta. “But really he’s a big softie.”

Their complete oppositeness (Violeta, openly playful; Angel, stiffly sarcastic) makes for addictive on-screen chemistry. They first fail to see eye to eye, as Angel initially declines Violeta’s request to file herself as a missing person.

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Three Lies provides an intimate perspective of the generational trauma of young women forced into giving up their children, especially under a conservative regime where church and state enforced the double standard of upholding the institution of marriage to the point where domestic abuse was legal, meanwhile exploiting the plight of young mothers for financial gain.

We learn why, in such a political climate wherein women had few legal rights, girls like Karmele prefer El Consuelo over life outside in the real world, whereas others like Inma and Lucia seek to rise against oppression and find personal freedom.

The heart of Violeta’s search is to understand how her mother survived against all odds. After forty years, Violeta seeks to thank her birth mother who sacrificed so much for her, even though they could not spend their lives together.

Bernadette Patino

Bernadette Patino is a Manila-based writer. She is fascinated by and critical of the technologies and politics of visual cultures. Her photographic ruminations on the Philippines can be found here and here.

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