Argentine filmmaker shines light on country's abortion battle at Cannes

By Lucila Sigal
FILE PHOTO: Pro-abortion demonstrators take part in a protest in front of the National Congress while an abortion bill is debated in Buenos Aires, August 8, 2018. REUTERS/Martin Acosta/File Photo

By Lucila Sigal

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - An Argentine documentary, set for its premiere at Cannes on Saturday, is taking on the highly-charged topic of abortion, an issue that has polarized the South American nation and sparked mass protests by people on both sides of the debate.

The film, "Que Sea Ley" - which translates as "Let It Be Law" - follows the battle to pass a bill legalizing abortion which gained widespread support but was rejected by the country's Senate last year.

Current Argentine law only permits abortions in cases of rape, or if the mother's health is at risk.

"It makes me ashamed that the law does not exist," the film's director Juan Solanas, told Reuters in a telephone interview from the Cannes Film Festival on the French Riviera, where he will be joined for the showing by 20 Argentine women pushing for legalized abortions.

"Women are dying in Latin America every day. There are 300 million women (in Latin America) who do not have access to abortion," Solanas said

Members of the National Campaign for the Right to Legal, Safe and Free Abortion will present a modified version of the bill to Congress on May 28, when another wave of protests is expected on the streets of the capital city of Buenos Aires.

The film's premiere at Cannes coincides with a fresh round of debate in the United States as several states take measures to clamp down on abortion, including Alabama where the governor signed a bill on Wednesday to ban nearly all abortions, even in cases of rape and incest.

Solanas, the son of renowned Argentine filmmaker Fernando "Pino" Solanas, said he was personally firmly on one side of the debate and admitted his biggest challenge was balancing points of view from the bill's supporters and opponents.

Supporters of a woman's right to choose identify themselves at regular street protests with green handkerchiefs, while those who are against abortion carry blue handkerchiefs.

Solanas, who lived for decades in Paris after his family fled the dictatorship in Argentina in the 1970s, said when he started filming protests linked to the bill he did not know the project would morph into a full-length documentary.

The director, who now lives in neighboring Uruguay, went on to interview hundreds of women in Buenos Aires and other parts of Argentina, the home country of Pope Francis.

"Que Sea Ley" is not Solanas' first time tackling the issue of abortion. He is also known for his 2005 fiction film "Nordeste", which includes a scene showing the film's lead actor having an abortion procedure on screen.

"I am an atheist, but I say that if God exists, then it would be green," Solanas said, referring to the colored handkerchiefs carried by those who support legalizing abortion.

(Reporting by Lucila Sigal; writing by Cassandra Garrison; Editing by Adam Jourdan and Diane Craft)