Director: Norberto López Amado
Writer: Jorge Guerricaechevarría
Starring: Belén Rueda, Marian Álvarez, Iván Mendes
After a picture of her missing sister emerges, Spanish lawyer Laura Alonso (Rueda) travels to the Democratic Republic of Congo to try and find her and embarks on a mission to find her sister in a very dangerous and unfamiliar country.
Anyone with a half a brain or slight awareness of global affairs knows that the Democratic Republic of Congo is probably not the safest place to visit, so Sara’s Notebook is already going to struggle to get an audience (with half a brain – therefore most people not fluent in Spanish that will watch this film) to sympathise with its protagonist and therefore engage with its narrative. Though she may be naïve, slightly stubborn and motivated by her love for her only lucid family member (as her Dad is suffering from severe dementia), it is still very difficult to truly empathise with Laura, especially as she is supposed to be a lawyer, and so should not be as naive as the plot seems to depict her.
What also does not help is that Jorge Guerricaechevarría’s script struggles to fill a feature length narrative, and so has to resort to a cliché-ridden and frustratingly contrived narrative where our protagonist seems to find herself in life or death situations only to be then saved by expendable characters whose sole narrative purpose is not only to help her narrowly escape death on her foolhardy and rather stupid mission, but then often either get killed or have their lives ruined because of helping her, while the narrative shows only concern for Laura. The painful contrivances of the narrative as Laura narrowly escapes certain death while wearing the same skinny jeans and white vest top throughout the story make the film painfully predictable and devoid of any real tension or genuine emotional power, and the viewing experience is often a bit of a slog as we can’t help but know what will happen in each supposedly tense scene.
The film itself adopts a rather preachy tone, but without the substance or genuine character investment to back it up. There have been many film’s that’s show the brutal genocide and corruption that occurs in countries such as DR Congo, but Sara’s Notebook adds nothing to this and even when we see a woman raped and then her own child forced to shoot her, what should be a brutally shocking scene (after all this is a horrible reality of these countries) just feels lacking in any real shock value because of the way the narrative is put together.
The performances cannot be faulted, and Belén Rueda (of The Orphanage and Julia’s Eyes fame) delivers a wonderfully committed performance as Laura, but she is not given a script or story that her performance deserves. Meanwhile Iván Mendes gives a stunning performance as Jamir, a local boy who acts as Laura’s guide, and his own character arc should be one of profound catharsis, but the narrative contrivances once again stop this from being as powerful as it should be.
Once the film enters its final third (and getting there takes way too much effort from the viewer) there is finally some genuine tension, but again the narrative contrivances make the what happens feel a little too neat, tidy and predictable. There is no denying that Sara’s Notebook is made with the right intentions, but its tendency to rely and cliché and contrivance undermines this in a rather unforgiveable way and makes for a film that is quite an effort to watch without a satisfying enough reward.
Despite being made with perhaps the best of intentions, its cliché and contrivance ridden narrative make Sara’s Notebook not only a film that is often devoid of any real tension or genuine emotional engagement, but also a rather forgettable one.