Review: A Loss of Something Ever Felt (2020)

It is a rare occasion that a documentary captures the tension of a crime thriller and the intensity of the emotions running within a family. That is the case with A Loss of Something Ever Felt, a feature-length documentary debut by the Colombia-born, Estonia-based Carlos E. Lesmes. It premiered at HotDocs’ World Showcase program and its deeply personal, yet universal story should secure it a wider festival exposure.

The story sounds all too familiar. Lauri has always been an outcast of a kind, always in run-ins with the law, and his destiny as a drug addict living on the streets of the Colombian cities of Cali and Bogotá should not come as a surprise. Nevertheless, he still managed to keep close relations with his mother Hille, if not for other reasons, then to ask her for money to be able to maintain his drug habit. It has been six months since their last phone conversation when Hille decided to send her daughter and Lauri’s sister Eeva to Bogotá, in order to find him.

The rest of the documentary, at least its thriller aspect, is the search she conducts in a foreign metropolis she knew nothing about beforehand with the help of her husband Davood and their friend, the film director Carlos E. Lesmes who also serves as the principal translator and communicator with the official institutions like the police, the forensics institute, the rehab clinics and the social services, but also with people on the streets of Bogotá. The search is ongoing for a month, hitting all the cliches like the well-intended, but bureaucratized institutions, rumours, confusion, false leads and the explanations of the mechanisms of the street life provided by former addicts.

As scripted as it may sound, the film does not feel manipulated for a number of reasons. Firstly, there is always a sense of urgency thanks to the often used shots by the concealed camera. They are assembled masterfully with the impressive situation shots of the streetscape of a chaotic city, the quiet moments shared within the search crew and the excerpts from the earlier correspondence between Eeva and Lauri by the editor Hendrik Mägar with the clear sense of rhythm. Also, the street search opens another level of examination on the level of family ties and relations between Eeva, Lauri and their mother. The driving force behind them is also a form of addiction: while Lauri is addicted to drugs and the lifestyle of a drifter, his mother is addicted to the connection she feels with him, and Eeva is addicted to her mother’s approval even though she realizes that her love for him was never returned.

Lesmes’ directing instincts are perfect when it comes to stylistic choices in order to capture the atmosphere of the places (when the plot moves back to Estonia’s capital Tallinn and Hille’s home town Kuusalu, the shots get quite static, contrasting those of Bogotá and Cali), as well the emotional scape of Eeva. Ann Reimann’s ominously pulsating original score is used perfectly to dictate the tension. The film also benefits from the structure constructed through the script Lesmes wrote together with the film’s producer Liis Nimik, best known for her script- and editing work on Martti Helde’s impressive docufiction hybrid In the Crosswind. Even the ending, bleak as it comes and quite matter-of- factly, resonates on an emotional level. A Loss of Something Ever Felt is an example of top-notch film-making.

Original title: A Loss of Something Ever Felt
Year: 2020
Runtime: 83′
Country: Colombia, Estonia, Sweden
Languages: Spanish, Estonian, English
Directed by: Carlos E. Lesmes
Written by: Carlos E. Lesmes, Liis Nimik
Cinematography by: Aivo Rannik, Giulia Ducci, Davood Mousavi, Carlos E. Lesmes
Editing by: Hendrik Mägar
Music by: Ann Reimann
Sound design by: Gabriel Solis
Produced by: Liis Nimik
Co-producers: Marcela Lizcano, Davood Mousavi, Mauricio Vergara, Carlos E. Lesmes
Production companies: Alasti Kino OÜ, Vice Versa Cine, Little Black Fish
Supported by: Estonian Film Institute, Eesti Kultuur Kapital