The Red Squirrel, 1993

On an empty stretch of highway, a despondent musician named Jota (Nancho Novo) stares out into the sea, trying to gather enough courage to jump. He is distracted from his suicidal thoughts by the sight of a speeding motorcyclist (Emma Suarez) who has crashed through the railing and landed on the shore. Jota comes to her aid and finds that, although physically unhurt, the woman is badly disoriented and shaken. The young woman is unable to recall anything about herself, and Jota cannot find any clues that lead to her real identity. When the paramedics arrive and mistakenly identify Jota as a passenger on the motorcycle, he seizes the opportunity to invent a long-term relationship with her. Calling the amnesiac woman Lisa after his former girlfriend and bandmate, Jota attempts to convince her of their shared, idle life in a beach-front apartment. But soon, Jota’s deception proves to be in jeopardy when Lisa begins to identify the physical characteristics of a man on a memory test photograph as that of Felix (Carmelo Gomez). Fearing the restoration of her memory through psychological tests, Jota smuggles Lisa out of the hospital and takes her to a remote campground on the pretense of facilitating her “memory exercises”, attempting to reinforce his idealized image of her as his lover. However, as fragments of Lisa’s true identity begin to surface, and a determined, obsessed stranger continues to search for her, Jota’s unattainable illusion gradually unravels.

Julio Medem presents a clever and insightful film on the nature of love and illusion in Red Squirrel. Through the recurring image of water, Medem creates a visual metaphor for Jota’s created and unsustainable image of Lisa: the opening shot of an underwater swimmer; the lake reservoir at the Red Squirrel campground; Jota’s playful reference to Lisa as “the siren”; the image of a car plunging into the sea. In essence, Lisa’s amnesia provides the perfect opportunity to figuratively create a Pygmalion-like ideal, a woman who has been mentally re-sculpted from Jota’s unrealized love and failed relationship. However, unlike Galatea, what results is a superficial and vacuous image of an elusive fantasy, and inevitably, it is the enigma of Lisa’s real identity – the compelling need to understand the nature of her true soul – that haunts him.

© Acquarello 2001. All rights reserved.

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