Film Review: The Birthmark (2019), by Pia Ilonka Schenk Jensen and Bernhard Hetzenauer

On her birthday, August 31st, Victoria Pamela Salas did not return home. She talked to her mother over the phone in the afternoon and promised her that she will be home later, so the two could share the cake. Later on, she texted her mother stating that she would celebrate her birthday with her friends and would be home late. When she failed to appear next morning, her mother Consuelo called her, and Victoria Pamela reassured her that everything was alright, that she was not drinking and that she was about to go home. In the end, she never came. She was murdered.

Consuelo Salas narrates her testimony about her daughter’s disappearance and death in a calm and collected fashion in the short documentary The Birthmark directed by Pia Ilonka Schenk Jensen and Bernhard Hetzenauer. For her, it evidently took a lot of courage and nerves to be able to act so. Her daughter was not a victim of some kind of circumstances, but of a plain and simple femicide. The murder took place in the notoriously dangerous Mexico City, but it could have happened anywhere.

The film itself consists of a series of images blurred to the level of abstract that prove to be extreme close-up shots of body parts, with Gabriela Ivette Sandoval Torres serving as a model for Victoria Pamela Salas or any woman murdered and left behind. The story would be equally potent with other kinds of visual treatments, abstract or realistic, and it could even simply work as an audio recording over the black screen, which is something Schenk Jensen and Hetzenauer use at the point where Consuelo talks about the method of her daughter’s murder.

However, the key part of The Birthmark’s minimal production in which the directing duo also assumed the roles of producers, cinematographers and editors is the very particular sound design handled by Daniela López Guerrero that serves as the guideline through the abstract visuals. The minimal string drone of a music score by Marco Antonio Luján also fits extremely well, making The Birthmark not just a strong piece of testimony, but also an accomplished film.

The Birthmark was screened in the selection of the Filmfestival Max Ophüls Preis: Neue Horizonte (New Horizons) section, where it premiered on January 21st.

Original Title: El lunar en su espalda
Year: 2019
Runtime: 11’25”
Countries: Mexico, Denmark, Norway, Austria, Germany
Directed by: Pia Ilonka Schenk Jensen, Bernhard Hetzenauer
Cinematography: Pia Ilonka Schenk Jensen, Bernhard Hetzenauer
Editing: Pia Ilonka Schenk Jensen, Bernhard Hetzenauer
Produced by: Pia Ilonka Schenk Jensen, Bernhard Hetzenauer
Testimony: Consuelo Salas
Narration: Consuelo Salas
Model: Gabriela Ivette Sandoval Torres
Sound design: Daniela López Guerrero
Sound mix: Francisco Hernandez
Sound recording: Iván Ramos
Music: Marco Antonio Luján
Support: CPH:Lab, CPH:Dox
Distribution: Lemonade Films