Written by Cassie Jo Ochoa
A love letter to the filmmaking experience, Leonor Will Never Die is one of the first true surprises of the Sundance film festival. The perfect way to go into this film is knowing as little as possible, but if you’ve clicked on this review you might need a bit more to go on. So let me be explicit: Leonor Will Never Die is one of the most unique films of not only Sundance but of the decade so far.
The film follows Leonor (Sheila Francisco), a former major filmmaker in the Filipino film industry who’s fallen into a depression and retired from the industry she loved. Now she spends her days talking to the local children about the latest Filipino action film and coming home to a son (Bong Cabrera) who is desperately trying to a way out of the crumbling household. Due to a comic accident involving a television, Leonor is thrown into a coma and straight into her unfinished screenplay. As her family copes with the realities of Leonor never waking up, she’s living through the events of her last great action film.
At its best Leonor Will Never Die brings about the feeling of a Michel Gondry film. The way the film plays with the stories we tell, and how we rewrite our own lives to suit an unseen audience is fascinating. Writer/director Martika Ramirez Escobar has clearly invested a lot of time into telling the story of storytelling and every frame of Lenor Will Never Die pours with care and compassion. The performers do excellent work, with the film never truly careening too far off the track. Sheila Francisco is a perfect lead, selling the layered role with aplomb as she navigates through both her life with her son and the wild movie set within her mind. The film-within-a-film is carried by Rocky Salumbides, who brings the charm of an 80’s actor while fighting to save the love of his life.
If there’s one caveat to Leonor Will Never Die, it’s that the film’s structure leaves pacing problems. It’s a treat to see both the real world dealing with Leonor’s life and Leonor finishing her screenplay, but the structure scene to scene is unbalanced and leads one to question where it’s all going. It does eventually get there, with a tear-stained climax that will perfectly balance the whimsical nature of the premise with the heart the film has worn on its sleeve this entire time. Nevertheless, Leonor Will Never Die is absolutely worth a watch and will hopefully develop a cult audience of its own.