Rocio, a 63-minute documentary by Dario Guerrero, chronicles the final days of a woman with terminal kidney cancer. The director utilizes the moving image as a means to cope with the unknown. Guerrero, an undocumented immigrant from Los Angeles, takes a leave of absence from Harvard University after receiving a full scholarship. He films his mother, Rocío, as she gains strength and travels to Nezahualcoyotl near Mexico City for holistic healing treatments. The production itself bonds three generations during a difficult process, and the completed film seamlessly links various timelines as the subject drifts towards the great unknown. Rocio is one of those special films that has the power to heal and calm the mind.
Guerrero’s directorial polish stands out within Rocio’s first 20 minutes. First, he correlates music with his mother’s home life in the present timeline. Despite being terminally ill, Rocio remains optimistic and joyful. Music and laughter fills her room. Guerrero often pairs such moments with similar footage from the 90s. At the 16-minute mark, Rocio smiles as her arm dangles from a bed. “Let me film you now,” she says. In a beautiful jump cut, the subject films her son during a home video from the 90s. Minutes later, Guerrero correlates music and the moving image with spirituality as his father wipes tears from his eyes and talks about the last time he attended a church service. By the 30-minute mark, the director films a spider on the ceiling in his mother’s room. Is it a symbol of death? Maybe a sign of life? Perhaps it’s a moving image that reflects a sense of survival, a sense of clinging onto life despite the odds.
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Rocio would’ve benefitted from a tighter opening sequence. For example, Guerrero begins with an archival news clip and then reads poetry by the 15th century Mexican philosopher Nezahualcoyotl. These sequences arguably should have been flipped and expanded for the sake of storytelling clarity. As a viewer, during a first watch, I was hoping for more contextual information about Guerrero’s Harvard story and his Nezahualcoyotl reference. An expanded intro, with narration, would’ve provided some extra clarity within a matter of seconds. Still, it’s those perceived imperfections that may seem fitting for other viewers. Guerrero spends little time talking about himself, which in turn allows the audience to emotionally invest in his mother’s story.
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For me, Rocio’s best moment emerges at the 29-minute mark. Guerrero sets up his camera as his mother asks about the film’s potential success. He doesn’t answer. Guerrero turns away from the camera and holds his mother’s hand. Rocio cries while expressing gratitude for her family’s emotional support. It’s a brief moment of shared healing, caught on camera. Guerrero doesn’t need this footage to remember his mother, of course, but this particular moving image undoubtedly has the power to heal and calm his mind, especially when considering how the Harvard grad lovingly frames his mother throughout Rocío. She is present.
Rocío received an exclusive streaming premiere on July 12, 2022 via Ovid.tv.
Q.V. Hough (@QVHough) is Vague Visages’ founding editor.