When films aren’t perpetuating the sickeningly-sweet myth of the ‘magic’ of motherhood, sprinkled with a pinch of domesticated bliss, they usually depict the kind of mother-daughter stories that will make you swear off sex for life. Rubbed in Pink (Rozada) has found the sweet spot between the yawn-inducing clichés, and with its refreshing, and at times disquieting, honesty makes even the mundane moments interesting and deeply compelling. Sharply observed but tenderly realised, the eleven minute drama is the story of 11 year old Sofie, her sister and their mother who works as a fashion photographer, and whose lifestyle has accelerated her daughter’s transition into womanhood. DN caught up with Director Kathy Esquenazi-Mitrani to chat about her childhood, over-sexualisation and the power of role models.
A heads up, both the film and following article contain some NSFW images.
Can you tell us a little bit about your childhood and how it inspired you to write Rubbed in Pink?
I grew up in Bogota, Colombia, where my mother worked as a fashion photographer. I spent a lot of time either watching or taking part in her photoshoots. In the early 2000s, security issues forced my mom, my siblings and I to move permanently to the US and the life that I knew abruptly turned from artful to practical. In the US, my mom leaned heavier on religion in order to maintain a sense of community.
Coming from Colombia and trying to fit into a new order came with certain expectations especially as a young girl. I learned to wear my body through the lens of fashion, religion and the Latin American culture all of which foster to some degree the objectification of women. In my adulthood, I re-learned how to be the kind of womxn I felt proud to be by connecting my femininity with courage. I started investigating how I was exposed to femininity as a girl and how that shaped me as a womxn. During this process, I started to develop a project that looked into how we as girls look to our mothers for guidance in the process of discovering our femininity/sexuality and meanwhile how the world around us has expectations for how we should be. This project later grew into Rozada (Rubbed in Pink), which was my way of celebrating the intimate moments that I shared with my mother while exploring how different versions of femininity are passed on through generations.
Were you specifically looking for a familial relationship between your younger actors when casting and how did them being real life sisters affect their performances?
Actually, while casting, I was looking for a real life mother and daughter that would be open to exploring these areas of femininity with me in front of a camera but I didn’t find that. I was luckier to have found Alejandra and Isabela for the characters of Sofia and her younger sister. I loved their dynamic. It was very clear from our first meeting which of the sisters was in charge and I wanted the nuances of this kind of role-model relationship between sisters to read on camera. I don’t think it would have been possible to capture the subtleties in a sister dynamic naturally, with the time I had, had they not been real life sisters. They gave each other a sense of comfort on set that allowed them to play with the scenes while preserving some of their natural behavior.
I learned to wear my body through the lens of fashion, religion and the Latin American culture all of which foster to some degree the objectification of women.
There are some intimate scenes in the film. How comfortable were the actors with the nudity and how did you handle it on set, especially since there were children involved?
The actors felt pretty comfortable with nudity. They were on a workout regime prior to filming so to some degree I think they were excited about the challenge. We discussed the scenes before filming and protected a private set where only me, the cinematographer, the sound recordist and the producer were allowed in the room while filming. I wanted to create a respectful atmosphere where the actors felt free to communicate with me. We didn’t allow children on set during the nudity scenes; we shot and scheduled those strategically.
Rubbed in Pink is almost entirely made up of close ups and mid shots, which pulls us almost uncomfortably close to the main characters and their relationship. Why did you choose to shoot it this way?
I tend to focus more on the details of things and this influences how I visualize stories. However, in this film particularly, I needed the camera to be close because I wanted to create shots that would pull the focus close and personal to the characters and their world. It was important for me that the audience have an uncensored intimate experience without being vulgar about it.
The film’s pulling power stems from the subtlety of the narrative and the performances. They’re undeniably authentic and therefore compelling, yet quietly shocking at times (the waxing scene comes to mind). How did you achieve that balance?
On set the actors had freedom to explore each moment and play with different ways to arrive at the same feeling. I found improvisation and loosening my control of the scenes was the most effective way for me to protect the natural performances with the young actors. With the adult actors, I think this method took away some of the seriousness we carry with age and opened up space for play.
Afterwards, it was about finding the rhythm of shock in the edit. I was focused on contrast. I wanted the louder moments positioned next to the quiet moments and wanted sharp cuts to abruptly propel the story forward. I leaned on the sound design to work as the bridge that either went into the next scene or stopped right at the foot of it to enhance the contrast. The waxing scene was interestingly the first edit I was happy with and it became the model for how I wanted the rest of the piece to be cut.
Rubbed in Pink explores how femininity and sexuality are moulded by our role models as well as society’s expectations. Growing up in a religious community, was the way you were brought up ever judged as wrong or inappropriate, and do you personally feel there’s a right way at all?
We were definitely judged. Some of our family still calls us “the crazy ones” and I’m sure some of the community I grew up around still have judgemental ideas about me or my mom – but that’s probably because our freedom makes those who are less free uncomfortable. I don’t think there’s one way to be or a right way to grow up. We are dimensional human beings with different wants and needs and those differences are actually what makes humanity bearable. I’m bothered when we are stripped of our dimensionality or when who we are or want to be is imposed/forced on us. There is no wrong as long as you are free to explore and live your most authentic self… uncompromisingly. Of course under the limits of not causing others harm.
Like my mom always says, “live and let live.”
It was important for me that the audience have an uncensored intimate experience without being vulgar about it.
What do you hope the audience will take away from Rubbed in Pink?
I would hope the audience can take away some perspective into the delicacy of femininity, the impact of over-sexualization and the power of role modelling.
What does your mum think about Rubbed in Pink?
It changes every time I ask her. We’ve talked about the project through the whole process from concept to finished cut. Even now that it is existing in the world, we still talk about it. Our conversation changes as her and my relationship with the project evolves. She recently confessed to me that she felt very resentful when I first approached her about the idea. She said she felt very confused by my intentions. I think I put a light on a moment in our relationship that was shocking for her. But, when she saw the film she recognized the difference between the character and herself and was then able to appreciate it differently. She embraced my courage. Our relationship has completely changed because of this project. Beyond our mother-daughter dynamic, we are now connected by the fact that a piece of us exists in this film. For all of that I think she is very grateful, as am I.
What are you working on next?
I am just starting to distribute my second short film, Buzzkill, about a teenage girl whose mental and physical boundaries are tested at a high price when she tries to fit in with a band of teens. The film explores the intensity of teenage life while looking closely into gender dynamics, the subtleties of sexuality and the powerful energy of peer pressure.