When we look at dramas based on the lives of cancer patients, we notice that they are frequently highly sentimental. There is an undeniable sadness and pain in the lives of those who go through the turmoil, besides the agony of those who choose to support them during those times. Despite sympathizing with such characters, dramas of that kind can become tedious due to a boring monotony that overlaps most of them. Thankfully, Glorimar Marrero Sanchez’s ‘La Pecera’ (English Title: The Fishbowl) detaches itself from melodramatic overtones. It rather uses a distinctly subdued way to showcase a phase of emotional remission from the life-threatening disease.

Instead of chronicling the narrative solely around the character’s deteriorating health, La Pecera focuses on other aspects that the character gravitates toward. Noelia (Isel Rodriguez), whose cancer had improved recently, begins to notice her worsening condition. After going through years of treatment and medication, she is tired of the emotional toll it took on her and wishes to find a way out. While living away from her homeland, she finds herself caught in a conundrum. How would you choose to live your life when it is impossible to resist the inevitable?

La Pecera sensitively navigates the source of Noelia’s agony, whereas careless handling of this contemplation could have had a middling impact. Her partner, Jorge, makes every effort with earnest intentions. But his determination to get her to a better state starts suffocating her. On one side, she cannot outright insult him since there is no ill intent in his support. On the other hand, she starts questioning whether recovery is what she should invest this part of her life with. We see this chasm sensibly handled without any overt expositions to ruin its impact.

In this mental state, Noelia returns to her homeland of a Puerto Rican Island. She starts looking for traces of the place she left and the place it has become. Due to years of United States’ army operations on their land, it has suffered from harmful contamination. She tries to rebel for this cause and fight something beyond her physical pain. Despite all the painful effects of her worsening condition, she is committed to devoting her life to save this place from being exploited further.

La Pecera (The Fishbowl) Sundance Review
A still from La Pecera by Glorimar Marrero Sanchez, an official selection of the World Dramatic Competition at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

Since her childhood, Noelia has experienced pain in various ways. One of them is witnessing the tragedies that have befallen the island. A visit to this place gives her an opportunity to look into the pressing issues of these people personally. In her journey, there is also a sense of returning to the place she came from and finding a sense of comfort and familiarity. While spending her time with the local revolutionaries, she chooses not to share the diagnosis of her disease with her mother.

The subject of perception comes into play, where a limiting environment is precisely what she does not want. She longs to be free of the stigma of being a victim of the disease that had previously bound her hands. Glorimar Marrero Sánchez’s film walks a fine line between comfort and pain while addressing geopolitical clashes.

The writing finds a great balance of its elements and seamlessly transitions between different emotions. At one moment, Noelia lectures her mother about the global affairs affecting the land she grew up on. In the very next, they embrace each other with a warm hug. None of it feels contrived. It depicts how a close-knit bond can oscillate between such contrasts. Meanwhile, larger issues organically infiltrate their casual conversations.

The film creates a wide emotional cavass for the actors to work on through a mixture of personal and political elements. Isel Rodriguez’s arresting lead performance finds all the nuances, and she exhibits them with reverence for Noelia’s anguish. With a fear of a potential volcano looming over these islanders, the film presents a moving contemplation on life and death. It deals with the tug-of-war for Isela from both ends – between an unflinching acceptance of the inevitable and a painful struggle for survival. Much of the film’s emotional impact is determined by how well it handles these contemplative elements and creates a cerebral and sensitive cancer drama.

Glorimar Marrero Sanchez’s La Pecera (The Fishbowl) was screened at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival

La Pecera (The Fishbowl, 2023) Movie Links: IMDb
La Pecera (The Fishbowl, 2023) Movie Cast; Isel Rodriguez, Modesto Lacen, Maximilano Rivas, Magali Carrasquillo

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