Waves crash violently against the cliffside in the opening shot of Defiant Souls (Insumisas): nature dwarfs the woman who faces the weather nonetheless – defiant, as the title suggests. This is the true story of Enriqueta Faber (Silvie Testud), who lived as a man in order to study and practice medicine.
Posing as Enrique, she sets off to Cuba in search of her missing son, but soon becomes integrated in the local society which is desperate to keep the doctor around. For a while, it appears as if Enrique might get a chance at happiness – in spite of the pain and disappointment her life has held this far – in the love she shares with Juana de Léon (Yeni Soria), a social outsider with a ruined reputation.
Colonialist Cuba is shown without mercy: the slave trade is alive and well – people exhibited and dying in the streets – and men will not have their power questioned. Enrique, however, remains quietly steadfast, carving out her own space in a society which goes against everything she believes in. Yet her open objection against the blatant and persistent racism she witnesses ultimately becomes her downfall: her disguise is revealed, and one of the most scandalous trials in Cuban history takes its course.
The script by writer-director team Fernando Perez and Laura Cazador is taut and full of tension, bringing to life this tale of epic proportions in a dense 94 minutes. They never forget just how relevant the film’s topics still are today, upholding an undeniable sense of urgency throughout.
Defiant Souls easily claims its place alongside this year’s Elisa & Marcela and Gentleman Jack in skillfully drawing attention to the largely forgotten stories of historical women who lived and loved against all odds.
CAST: Sylvie Testud, Yeni Soria, Antonio Buil, Mario Guerra, Hector Noas
DIRECTOR: Laura Cazador, Fernando Perez
WRITER: Laura Cazador, Fernando Perez
SYNOPSIS: DEFIANT SOULS is based on the true story of Enriqueta Faber, a Swiss woman who, disguised as a man, studied medicine and became the first female surgeon in Latin America. At the same time, she campaigned against slavery and incurred the wrath of the colonial establishment.