Colombian director and co-writer Franco Lolli wowed at Cannes in 2014 with his drama film Gente de bien (Decent People.) Now he returns with perhaps his most personal film yet, casting his cousin and his mother in melodrama Litigante.

Silvia is a woman caught on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Raising her young son alone, her mother is battling with cancer and is constantly a source of contempt for Silvia. All the while, Silvia is a lawyer dealing with a major corruption scandal that could put her whole career in jeopardy. Could this all be too much for Silvia? Could she find respite in a blossoming relationship?

Lolli’s work here is not a grand or overtly emotional piece. It fits the melodrama genre very well. It is a small, quiet piece that is charged in places with these visceral moments. Lolli, working with this family members, keeps the action tight and close. The closeness of Silvia’s scenes keeps this realistic beat It also has an astonishing dusty brown colour palette.

Carolina Sanin is incredible. Silvia is a difficult character to portray because there are many grieving paths you have to trundle down with her. Too much melancholy could lose our empathy, too little and we’ll be wondering why we care. It’s a precarious walk but Sanin, along with Loll’s writing, keeps us write there alongside her. Powerful sequences such as climatic scenes with her boss and a tender staircase scene with her mother showcase the turbulent emotions Silvia has to wade through. Emotions that change every second, of every day. 

When played against Alejandra Sarria’s embittered and ill matriarch Maria, Sanin is electrified and exhausted all at once. Lolli’s mother Sarria playing a sympathetic character whilst being the source of much of Silvia’s frustrations. This is the most empathic thread of Litigante: You can neither vilify nor idolise either women – they are two real family members dealing with the worst of it, toughing out old wounds and recent contentions.

It is weird to say but Litigante is a nice film. There are hard to watch sequences, especially when Maria is tackling the cancer treatments, but Litigante never really leaves the mark it was supposed to. It is a movie that you can pleasantly watch, leaving with no truly deep or ferocious responses. Perhaps that the point, such as last year’s Ordinary People; sometimes pain and trauma for us can be quite plain and unimportant for us. 

However, one suspects that isn’t the case here. At a taut 93 minutes, Litigante leaves a lot of the visceral behind.