Leonor’s interactions with this alternative Ronwaldo reveal that she relies on storytelling to make sense of the insurmountable loss of both a loved one and her beloved profession. Trapped inside this limbo while her body lies in a hospital bed, she clings to her former life behind a typewriter. As her spirit roams Ronwaldo’s high-octane ordeal or sneaks into a room during an intimate scene, Leonor’s hands move spontaneously as if she were still desperately pressing on keys to rewrite the plot. For the heroine, the bombastic fights and overly dramatic lines provide an escape where the good guys often emerge victorious, where there’s little ambiguity, and where she doesn’t have to face her grieving process.
Francisco’s muted turn as Leonor communicates a profound sadness—because the artform she adored took her son from her—without overt explanations but via the awe-struck or tearful facial expressions she runs through while witnessing her screenplay come to life in front of her eyes. By inserting her in “The Return of the Kwago,” the director allows her to once again be in charge, dictate others’ destinies, and perhaps change hers.
Ramirez Escobar’s kooky brand of fantastical whimsy, however, isn’t reserved for Leonor’s filmic afterlife. The more the dual story progresses, the more we realize that what we have understood to be the real world still functions under the rules of movie magic. As Rudi decides to chase after his mother’s disembodied conscience, the layers of both planes of existence begin to overlap in both hilarious and affecting ways. Cinema, as the director portrays it, serves as a vessel for life itself to be questioned and examined. Even tales marked by surreal characteristics can still hold plenty of truth about the human condition.
Unexpected in the most marvelous of manners, “Leonor Will Never Die” is reminiscent of the waking dream qualities of Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s oeuvre, Spike Jonze’s “Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind,” and the Japanese horror-comedy “One Cut of the Dead.” With its low-fi pleasures of see-through ghosts and TV screens as portals, the film reaffirms how ingenious the medium can be in the grasp of the right artist. From one segment to the next, the mechanics of this adventure repeatedly astound us.
Near this wildly original movie’s conclusion, Ramirez Escobar expands its meta attributes even further, once and for all blurring the lines between make-believe and the making of it behind the scenes. Not only does the audacious director feature a surprisingly joyfully musical number, but by not having a conventional conclusion she demonstrates that what cinema immortalizes can never be killed. Through her movies, Leonor is truly made eternal.
Now playing in theaters.